Why do some parents let their children drink alcohol at home?

A couple drinking wine, sat with a young boy Image copyright Thinkstock

Half of parents with children under 14 allow them to drink alcohol at home, according to a new survey.

The poll of more than 1,000 parents, by Churchill Home Insurance, also found 34% used alcohol as a bribe to encourage good behaviour.

It isn't illegal for children aged five and over to have alcohol at home, but government guidance says children under 14 who drink have increased health risks.

So why do some parents allow it?

Parental discretion

Anne Atkins is a mother of five and author of the book Child Rearing for Fun: Trust Your Instincts and Enjoy Your Children.

She says she has given her children sips of wine, allowing her daughter a first taste when she was eight. Her daughter is now 13, and is allowed a little wine "if we're celebrating".

She believes the right approach is "what the parents judge" to be best.

"Of course it's alarming to think of parents giving alcohol as a bribe, but that could mean all sorts of things. It could mean 'You've passed your exams, let's open a bottle of Prosecco, would you like a little?'

"An alcohol-free childhood is fine, but alcohol is good for you [when] drunk and enjoyed correctly.

"But we have to acknowledge that booze is a huge problem in our society now."

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionAuthor and journalist Anne Atkins told the BBC she allowed her 13-year-old daughter to drink at home

Heather Witherington, 47, a social worker from Daventry in Northamptonshire, was first given alcohol aged 10 by her father.

"My family is Irish so there's a big drinking culture. I remember being at family functions aged 10 and people teasing me about having a brandy, expecting to be told no," she says.

"But my dad would then say 'Yeah, she'll have one of them,' and I'd be given a martini and lemonade instead.

"My dad was always about experimenting in a safe way. I'd have drinks at barbecues and once I got drunk aged 12. I couldn't feel my knees. My dad told me I was a bit tiddly and that I couldn't have any more."

Heather says she has three family members who have had problems with alcohol, and that she was encouraged to not follow their example.

"To some it might seem that I was encouraged to drink as a child, but in our eyes it was all about managing risks."

Heather says she and her husband Richard allowed their 15-year-old son Callum to start drinking sips of lager and wine aged 10, and then have a shandy to himself soon afterwards.

Image copyright Heather Witherington
Image caption Heather Witherington says she and her husband have allowed their son to taste alcohol since he was 10

Today she says Callum will share a bottle of beer with his dad while watching football on occasion, or at barbecues.

"He's now more mature about alcohol than some of his mates. He sees it all as the same, whereas ones who didn't drink when they were younger are looking to try new drinks and get hammered.

"He has still had some normal experimentation with alcohol, as many teenagers do, but he's much more aware of alcohol because he was introduced to it early."

'Critically vulnerable'

Dr Martin Scurr, a former GP, said he used to allow his children to drink.

But he changed his mind about this "even though it means putting the brakes on ideas that, socially and culturally, have always been rather hallowed".

Image caption Dr Martin Scurr changed his mind about giving children alcohol

He says the brain of a child coming into puberty is "critically vulnerable" to damage.

"That's a worry if you're introducing a chemical that's psychoactive, that's active on the brain," he says.

"It is a critical age and we need to think carefully about that, and the fact that we can disrupt the future structure and functioning of the brain by allowing children to take alcohol."

Dr Scurr says alcohol has an "allure" for children of this age range, who like to take risks and look for new experiences.

He adds that while people in European nations have long allowed their children to drink watered-down alcohol, better medical understanding means caution should now be used and that people should not simply take "a note out of past history".

"Once you've introduced alcohol to children, they could then get enthusiastic. There has to be a balance."

Dr Sarah Jarvis, medical advisor to alcohol education charity Drinkaware says, it is best to talk to your child about the risks associated with drinking.

"As a parent, you have more influence than you might think," she says.

"Your child is likely to come to you first for information and advice about alcohol, and you can help shape their attitudes and behaviour towards alcohol by being a role model for responsible drinking."

Read the terms and conditions.

Related Topics

More on this story