Saturday 16 December 2017

Our kids shouldn't drink at 14, at home or anywhere else

For a while there, the theory was that the cure for Ireland drinking too much alcohol too young was for us to go all French.

We'd do this by introducing the stuff to the kids, pouring a few teaspoons of wine into some water for them to have with their dinner.

The theory suggested that they would totally get the sophistication of sipping a diluted version of what their parents were laying into.

They would learn alcohol as a civilised part of normal family life.

They'd develop a subtle palate before they even got into their teens, fully appreciating the interplay of the delicate flavour of diluted wine with their roasted sea bass.

Did they? Not a bit of it. Ireland rolled and reeled onward in undiminished commitment to rotting our brains and our livers through binge drinking.

Then scientific 
research came out showing that by giving their kids small amo-

unts of wine early on, the French were not guarding them against alcoholism at all.

Neither the ongoing Irish problem nor the scientific data debunking the give-them-wine-with-their-fish fingers theory stopped the onward march of the theory, though.

It surfaces again in one generation after another.


If you say "Research proves it's complete and utter piffle - leave your kids drinking water or milk," the proponents of the French approach to wine for kids get quite shirty with you.

It stands to reason, they tell you, that children would totally get the sophistication of sipping a diluted version of their parents' drink.

Of course it makes sense, they add, that the kids would experience alcohol in a controlled domestic setting rather than slugging cider out on a hillside.

It's a case of "I've made up my mind, don't bother me with the facts."

It surfaced again in response to this week's Canadian study that established your teenager is more likely to get into binge drinking if they start imbibing alcohol as early as fourteen.

In one sense, the Canadian study should be comforting to many parents, (and frightening to others) because it found that predicting which kid would become a binge-drinker is becoming easier to do with every passing year.

Starting with the kid's genes. Surprise, surprise, if you come of a multi-generational family sodden in booze back to the days when Brian Boru was godfather to the youngest, then your kid stands a pretty good chance of becoming a binge drinker.

Add a risk-taking personality and an impulsive nature into the mix, and you can almost guarantee that they'll be major-league drunk as often as three times a year by the time they're sixteen.

Any decent parent who was told that not giving their children wine with their meals or introducing them to bottled beer at fourteen would help prevent later binge-drinking would probably welcome the advice.

Except that's not how the study was presented.

Several publications announced in their headline that giving a teenager one bottle of beer at fourteen more or less guaranteed they'd be binge drinkers.

"To be honest, it sounds a little extreme to me," one friend muttered.


"Surely a supervised tipple with the folks at fourteen beats getting smashed on the football pitches on a Saturday night when you're fifteen?"

That sound you hear is me ungritting my teeth. Of course it sounds extreme. It sounds crazy.

But that's not what the scientists said.

They said a whole cluster of factors had to come into play before later binge-drinking could be predicted.

The only advice they gave parents was to try to delay their kids' drinking. Even six months or a year would help.

The later you start, the less at risk you are.

It's not that drinking bottled beer at fourteen in a controlled domestic environment is better than slugging cider in a field. Of course it is.

But not drinking any alcohol at all until you're sixteen is even better. At home. Or in a field.

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