There is a belief among some parents that responsibly introducing small amounts of alcohol to our children at home will prevent our kids from going mad for it when they are teenagers. As a parent myself, I’ve always believed that letting my kids have the odd sip of wine at special family mealtimes would hopefully remove the mystery and reduce the “forbidden fruit” effect when they reach their teens and beyond. And so my thought process went . . . that if alcohol is totally out-of-bounds to them throughout their childhood, when they reach that dreadful age of curiosity and temptation, not to mention peer pressure, the fear is that they will overcompensate. So they were offered small amounts, now and then. They always refused though because they couldn’t stand the taste thank goodness so it’s not even relevant. but we always had a liberal approach because we didn’t want it to become a taboo thing – because we all know that for kids, taboo things are there to be tested. I’m not alone in my theory, even David Cameron, that marshmallowed champion of family values, thinks so too.
The reality is though that even if kids have been allowed to share a glass of vino with their families, generally speaking, the minute they’re given a longer rope, most of them will rush out and experiment with alcohol, probably even go a bit mad with it for a while. It’s not just the alcohol, it’s the whole business of defiance . . . doing stuff they shouldn’t be doing, going to pubs and bars underage, dabbling in soft drugs, coming home in the early hours and so on. It’s not just about defiance though. Once they reach the age of sixteen, most kids have usually outgrown the youth club and the Scouts. Most kids outgrow them well before then but at sixteen they’re usually ready to move to another development level socially. It’s just that most things are out of bounds for them.
Anyway, a BBC article today reports that England’s chief medical adviser is recommending that no children under the age of fifteen should drink alcohol. Well whether you see this as more interference from Nanny Labour or not, make no mistake folks, alcohol is not good for our children. Even if it’s disguised by sugary lemonade or it’s pretending to be a soft drink, it’s still alcohol. Remember, our children’s bodies and internal organs are developing throughout their childhood and alcohol can cause irreparable damage to our vital organs. And the brain – a two year study by the AMA (American Medical Association) came up with some some pretty conclusive results saying that alcohol is very harmful to the developing brain:
The brain goes through dynamic change during adolescence, and alcohol can seriously damage long- and short-term growth processes. Frontal lobe development and the refinement of pathways and connections continue until age 16, and a high rate of energy is used as the brain matures until age 20. Damage from alcohol at this time can be long-term and irreversible. In addition, short-term or moderate drinking impairs learning and memory far more in youth than adults. Adolescents need only drink half as much to suffer the same negative effects.
Apologies for being preachy but I have looked after many people with end-stage alcohol-induced illnesses – young people in their twenties and thirties, male and female. And I’ve seen the devastating effects of alcohol, not just on the patient but on their whole family. ALD (Alcoholic Liver Disease), hepatitis, cirrhosis, to name but a few alcohol-related illnesses, all have terrible, awful symptoms. Trust me, it’s not pleasant. I’m not suggesting that children who drink small amounts now and then will become addicted as adults (nothing to say they won’t either) and I acknowledge that there are all kinds of other social circumstances involved. But it’s become the norm for parents to open a bottle of wine after work most evenings. Once of a day, they would put the kettle on when a neighbour called round. Now they get the bottle out. What I’m trying to say is it’s becoming everyday routine behaviour in the eyes of our children. Nothing wrong with that if they see us drinking sensibly and responsibly but personally speaking, I would worry about the message I might be giving to my kids if I was drinking wine every night of the week.
I’d never advocate any kind of legal ban on parents giving their kids alcohol because I believe the “forbidden fruit” effect does play a part. And a ban like this would be hard to police anyway. I do strongly encourage more education at an early age about alcohol and its effects. Ultimately, the best way we can teach our children about responsible drinking is, as always, to lead by example. I reckon many kids form their adult drinking habits by watching how their parents use drink. If they see their parents relaxing in the evening and sharing a bottle of wine, it’s no big deal. If they see their parents regularly exceeding the guidelines, then clearly this is not a good example.
Anyway, where’s that glass of wine? I think I need one now.