Many parents are relaxing the booze rules at home, but is it reasonable or irresponsible to let youngsters have a tipple at the table?
For most parents, allowing their children a small glass of wine at dinner might seem harmless enough. But a recent study indicates that by the age of 18, 60% of teenagers have been drunk at least once. According to research that’s been carried out by South African Breweries (SAB), the Department of Trade & Industry and the National Youth Development Agency, nearly half of SA’s high school students admit to having had alcohol, and 35% of those were binge drinkers (drinking five or more drinks on one occasion). Rather than breaking the boozing taboo, what if parents are inadvertently normalising a potentially damaging habit? A 2012 substance abuse survey by UNISA’s Youth Research Unit found that one in two teens have experimented with alcohol, even though an SAB study indicated that most parents believe their children do not drink at all. Research has also shown that children who try alcohol from the age of 15 could be four times more likely to binge drink at a later stage, than those who try alcohol later. We speak to two mothers who have very different views on the matter…
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lunch since they were 11. I never worried I was setting them off down the wrong path. I know my children, and I know what they can, and cannot, be trusted with. I was just 17 – almost still a child myself – when I had Bee in July 1995. Being a young, single mom, I didn’t have the time – or money – to drink. In 2000, we moved to a new city so I could train as an actuary. I met someone new and in August 2002, my second daughter, Belle, was born. Then aged 24, I was finally at a point in my life when I felt secure, both emotionally and financially. But as a mother-oftwo, I was hardly going to go out clubbing and get drunk on the weekends.
Instead, when I had a glass of wine, it was with my partner, curled up on the couch watching a movie, or over Sunday lunch. Bee was nine when she first asked to try a sip of my wine. Offering her the tiniest slurp, she immediately scrunched her face up in disgust. ‘That’s horrible!’ she cried. I couldn’t help but chuckle. As she got older, I knew that her attitude towards wine would change, and that she was going to drink regardless of whether I said she could or couldn’t. Teenagers will be teenagers. That’s why I let her try what she wanted – wine, sips of gin. It meant I felt confident that she’d learn how much was too much. And I was right. When Bee was 15, she came stumbling through the front door after being dropped off home one evening and dashed upstairs. Judging by the waft left in her wake, I could tell she’d been drinking. The next morning, I sat on the edge of her bed and talked about the dangers of drinking heavily.
But she’d already made up her mind. ‘Never again, Mom,’ she said. Perhaps I’m lucky that my girls are level-headed. Even today, Bee never drinks and Belle also doesn’t seem too bothered. When I look at the dreadful drinks teens can buy legally – energy drinks, filled with chemicals – I think it’s crazy that we begrudge them the occasional beer or glass of wine. The bigger a deal that’s made out of alcohol, the more a teen will want it. While I’d love to take full credit for my daughters’ responsible attitudes, I think they are indicative of a generational change. So call me irresponsible if you like, ultimately, I know what’s best for my daughters. The bigger a deal made of it, the more a teen will want to drink ‘My boys will never be allowed a drop while they still live at home’ Julie Symington, 47, lives with her husband, Mark, and sons, Jake, 23, Joe, 17, robbie, 14, and romy, 12. I’d never let my boys touch a drop of alcohol before they turned 18, and if they ever dared to ask, my answer would be a flat no. The way I see it, alcohol is a deadly drug, just like any other.
You wouldn’t roll your children a cigarette to show them what it’s like, so why would I expose them to drink at home? It just seems like a pointless and risky thing to do. Luckily, my husband Mark is on the same page as me. As soon as our first son, Jake, was born in 1995, we decided we wouldn’t keep alcohol in the house. And by the time Joe was born in 2001, followed by Robbie three years later and Romy in 2006, Mark and I barely drank at all, even when we went out, and it meant that alcohol was never normalised in our family. As soon as Jake started high school, I explained the dangers of drinking alcohol – like how it damages your brain development and harms your vital organs if you do it too young. And I told him that the longer you leave it, the healthier you are.
He clearly took what I said on board because, despite often going to house parties, he never drank. On his 18th birthday, Mark bought him a beer, but he barely drank a third of it. I know Jake probably drinks at university, but when he comes home, it would never occur to me to offer him a beer – mainly because I believe nothing good comes from alcohol. Why would any mother want to encourage her children to drink? We are supposed to protect our families from harmful things. Besides, they’ve got plenty of time to drink with friends in the future. I’m not about to pressure them into it, too. I don’t think it’s necessary to give children a sip of alcohol underage. It’s a f shame it’s such a big part of our culture.