A healthy young generation is the key to a better world. Everyone wants their children to grow up happy and healthy. But alcohol is an obstacle to the happiness of children. Although many young Australians are staying alcohol-free longer, still most are turned into alcohol users by Big Alcohol before the legal age of 18. This endangers their health and well-being and public health.
Using alcohol during adolescence can lead to alcohol harms, such as injuries and mental ill-health. Alcohol can impede brain development of teens and in the long-term lead to alcohol use disorders.
Current National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines suggest delaying alcohol use until at least the age of 18.
Parents, carers and other adults in households play a key role in ensuring teens are protected from the alcohol industry. Unfortunately many are unaware or misinformed of alcohol’s harms to teens and allow them to have alcohol in the household.
A snapshot of alcohol use among teens allowed to have alcohol at home uncovers how early alcohol initiation through households impacts teenagers. The snapshot is part of the “Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC)” 7th wave, conducted in 2016. The snapshot focused on 3000 Australian teens between 16 and 17 years of age and their parents/carers.
Key findings of the study
Household permission to have alcohol for teens:
- In 2016, just over one-quarter (28%) of Australian teens aged 16-17 had permission from their parents to have alcohol at home.
- These teens were first allowed to have a full serve of alcohol at home at an average age of 16 years.
- Close to one-fifth (18%) of teens aged 16-17 years had parents who allowed them to take alcohol to parties or social events.
Alcohol problems among teens arising from being allowed to have alcohol in households
- In 2016, teens aged 16-17 years who were allowed to have alcohol in their household reported having ever had alcohol (88%) more than those not permitted to have alcohol in their household (49%).
- Teens who were permitted alcohol in their household reported past month (77%) and past week (49%) alcohol use more than those who were not permitted (month: 63%, week: 34%).
- Permission to have alcohol in the household increased the likelihood of having alcohol in the past week by 45% and in the past month by 20%.
- Teens who were permitted to have alcohol in the household experienced alcohol harm more than teens who were not permitted (23% vs 17%, respectively). These harms include one or more of the below:
- Trouble at school or work the day after using alcohol,
- Arguments with family members,
- Alcohol-related injuries or accidents,
- Violence or involvement in a fight due to alcohol, and
- After consuming alcohol, having sex with someone and regretting it later.
Risk factors which increase teens having alcohol in households
The following risk factors increase the risk of teens being allowed to have alcohol in their households:
- Living in more socio-economically disadvantaged neighborhoods,
- Residing in inner or outer regional areas compared to major cities in Australia,
- Being an only child,
- Having a younger primary parent/carer,
- Having a less educated primary parent, and
- Residing with one biological parent and one step-parent (compared to two biological parents).
More frequent alcohol consumption by parents was associated with a greater likelihood of allowing teens to have alcohol at home.
When taking key characteristics into account, each incremental increase in parental alcohol use frequency was related to a 23% increase in the odds of parents allowing their 16 to 17 year old teen to have alcohol at home, compared to parents who were alcohol-free.
Recommendations for policy and practice
Parents can reduce children’s risk of alcohol harm by encouraging them to stay alcohol-free. Increased education and awareness for parents and teens on alcohol harm in young people delivered through media and schools would be helpful.
Parents and carers can play a critical role in helping prevent – or delay – a young person’s initial use of alcohol,” said Dr Brendan Quinn, lead researcher of the report, as per the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Open conversations about alcohol between parents and their children will help prepare young people to make informed decisions for times when they encounter alcohol outside of the home, whether that be with friends or in other social settings.”
Dr Brendan Quinn, lead researcher
The study also helps to monitor how policies and laws on alcohol affect underage alcohol use. It further helps to identify risk factors which can inform interventions and policy solutions to reduce alcohol harm among teens and young people.
Growing up in Australia: “Alcohol use among teens allowed to drink at home“
Australian Institute of Family Studies: “More than one in four adolescents under 18 years old allowed to drink at home“
The Guardian: “Parents warned against allowing teens to drink as study reveals underage alcohol use in Australia“