Should parents let underage teens drink at home? 50% do, survey says

Should teens be allowed to drink alcohol at home? An underage drinking survey reveals it happens more than we may realize. Here's what parents should know. Getty Images

Half of parents with kids under the age of 14 let them drink at home, a new U.K. poll has revealed.

The same survey of 1,000 parents by Churchill Home Insurance showed just over 10 per cent allow children as young as five to consume alcohol, the Telegraph reported.

A quarter of those adults saw nothing wrong with underage drinking. Twenty per cent would also allow minors who aren’t family members to have alcohol in their home.

One-third used it as a bribe to encourage good behaviour. The same amount believed they could monitor their child’s alcohol consumption if it happened at home.

READ MORE: Could personality in childhood predict how teens will respond to drinking?

What a psychologist says

Toronto-based clinical psychologist David Teplin says parents shouldn’t assume giving their children alcohol will encourage them to have a healthy relationship with booze as they age. He feels there will be things teens hide, regardless of how permissive parents are.

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“Parents all need to be role models and they need to set examples,” he argued.

“Sometimes they want to be the kids’ best friend as opposed to be the parent… It then becomes much more difficult to set limits and boundaries.”

The science on how letting your kids drink at home affects them is mixed.

Some studies found men who grow up in families where alcohol is forbidden are more prone to become alcoholics (than those who grow up in homes where wine is served with meals), while teens who drink with their parents are less likely to binge drink. Other research has found the opposite of the latter.

Not one size fits all

While Teplin believes North America is a “binge society,” he thinks “we have to be respectful of cultures and groups” where a glass of wine with dinner, for example, has always been the norm. In those cultures, he says drunkenness is not tolerated.

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“So having a glass of wine with lunch or dinner is not a big deal.”

For others, alcohol can have devastating effects.

READ MORE: Drugs, alcohol often tied to fatal crashes among teen drivers in B.C.

“Alcohol and drugs can for some lend themselves to the depression, suicide risk, sleep disorders, anger acting up — and that becomes an issue,” Teplin said, adding ADHD is a risk factor for possibly developing alcohol and drug problems down the road.

The “problems with alcohol can develop when parents provide alcohol to youth without guidance or supervision,” according to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

“For this reason, if youth should start drinking — and it is recommended that they do not — it would be better for them to drink small amounts of alcohol in the company of their parents, if the parents demonstrate low-risk drinking.”

The most important thing a parent can do

Teplin stresses the need for parents to be educated about the effects of alcohol — there’s no excuse not to be in this digital age, he says — and to have open discussions about it with their kids.

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That includes explaining to teens how alcohol can impact them psychologically and physically (that includes pointing out that females metabolize alcohol differently than males).

READ MORE: Study finds more young girls drinking than young boys 

How to deal with peer pressure and unwanted sexual advances should also be part of that talk.

Potential liability

Parents who do allow alcohol at home should be aware, as well, that serving it to your friends’ children is illegal.

“If they serve alcohol to a minor, they have committed an offence. If they give the alcohol to a minor who’s not their child, they have committed an offence… That’s the law in most provinces,” said Neil Jones, a Hamilton-area lawyer who represented the parents of a teen who died of alcohol poisoning at a house party where the parents were home.

But even allowing an underage BYOB event to be held on your property, can leave you legally vulnerable, warns Andrew Mcgrath of the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

“Anyone involved in serving alcohol can potentially be held liable for damages or injuries where alcohol is deemed to have been a contributing factor.”

“This is true whether the injuries occurred at the event or after the guest leaves,” according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

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“The courts are likely to be even more critical of your actions if you bought or provided the alcohol for the underage event.”

There have been a number of cases in Canada where parents have found themselves in court after a party at their house got out of hand and ended in accidental death.

READ MORE: Feeding your child a vegan diet? Parents could face jail time in Italy

To avoid any problems, when Calgary mother Chris Seger decided to throw her son a high school graduation party at her place in 2007, Macleans reported she insisted everyone get parental consent to be at the party. She also made a rule that “no one leave until morning, unless they were picked up by their folks.”

“When the kids got here, they handed over their keys and we closed the gate behind them,” she recalled in 2009. “We had a barbecue… gave them some fruit… set out cases of water so they wouldn’t get dehydrated.”

She didn’t supply any alcohol but a majority of the 20 partygoers brought their own, and eventually crashed in tents set up in the backyard. Seger then served them all breakfast the next morning.

“I think the kids just wanted to have that experience,” she said. “Our thought was, let’s just make sure they’re safe.”

SOUND OFF: Do you think parents should let teens drink at home? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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