Parents are being urged to delay the moment their child first drinks alcohol because it can damage the growing brain.
The idea that introducing your child to alcohol, for example with a glass of wine at the dinner table, will take away the novelty and deter binge drinking is a myth, say experts. Too many people still believe that families drinking together in France keeps children safe, when actually the county’s rates of alcohol dependence and binge drinking exceed those in the UK.
The warning comes from health campaigners in the north-east of England, who have launched a campaign aimed at parents called What’s the Harm, backed by experts across the UK.
Guidance from the chief medical officer says an alcohol-free childhood and youth up to the age of 18 is healthiest – and that no child should be drinking at all before they turn 15. However, this advice from 2009, which was confirmed in 2016, is not widely known, said Colin Shevills, the director of Balance, an alcohol awareness group funded by 12 local authorities in north-east England.
“Only one in 20 adults is aware of it,” he said. “Clearly, a lot of myths are flourishing in the absence of strong campaigns. The government has not been doing enough to make people aware of the harms of alcohol for adolescents or children.”
Their survey of parents shows that almost half (43%) believe children should have their first taste of alcohol before 15, despite evidence showing children who start drinking at an early age are more likely to become heavy drinkers when they are older.
“Parents have a right to know about all of the alcohol harms which children face if they drink. Every parent wants the best for their child and we know it can be hard knowing what is the right thing to do around alcohol,” said Shevills.
“However, we know from speaking to north-east parents there’s a myth that providing alcohol at a young age makes children less curious, when in fact it can be a trigger for drinking. People mention the French way of giving children alcohol – but France actually has twice the rate of alcohol dependence of the UK.”
It is safer for children to drink in the home, if they are drinking, he said, but parents are entitled to know the damage that alcohol can cause and be empowered to argue against a teenager who says that “everybody else does it”.
Alcohol affects children faster than adults, said Dr John Green, a GP in Prudhoe, Northumberland. “Medical evidence is clear that drinking can also affect the normal development of children’s vital organs and functions, including the brain, liver, bones and hormones. It is also linked to their mental health, can lead to feelings of depression among children and it can also affect their performance at school,” he said.
More and more young people are choosing not to drink and they need to be supported, said Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, the chair of the UK’s Alcohol HealthAlliance. “Myths suggesting providing alcohol to your child will stop them having problems are much more prevalent and people have a right to know the facts.
“This campaign from Balance sets out to help parents with an issue many of us have had to tackle. It will help empower parents to make decisions about alcohol which will give their children the best start in life and I would urge the government to look at how it can be replicated across the country.”
By Sarah Boseley
18 Nov 2018 19:01 EST
Original Article: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/nov/19/letting-children-try-alcohol-at-home-wont-deter-binge-drinking-say-uk-experts