A new initiate, called ‘What’s The Harm’, is calling on parents to delay the moment their child first starts to drink.
It comes as almost half (43 per cent) of parents think 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’re older.
Colin Shevills, director of Balance, North East of England’s alcohol office, said: “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 than the UK.
“We found that a lot of parents were not aware of official guidance around children, and were more likely to call on their own experiences growing up when making decisions about alcohol.”
The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) guidance is that an alcohol-free childhood up to 18 is the healthiest and best option, and that if children do drink, this should not be before age 15. However, the Balance survey suggests many parents are unaware of this.
Many parents know drinking increases the risks of accidents, injuries, smoking and drug-taking. But many are less aware of the damage alcohol can do to children’s developing brains, liver, bones and hormones, affecting their mood, their mental health and risking them falling behind at school, the organisation said.
Because of this, Balance is launching the ‘What’s the Harm’ campaign to coincide with Alcohol Awareness Week (19-25 Nov), to help parents get clued up. The site includes myths and facts about alcohol use among under 18s, plus some tips for parents.
“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,” Shevills added.
North Tyneside mum Joanne Good, 40, lost her 16-year-old daughter Megan Craig-Wilkinson on January 1st 2014. Megan passed away in her sleep after drinking alcohol at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party and Joanne is sharing her story to make other parents aware of the risks of alcohol to their children.
“As a parent, it’s so hard to know what the right thing to do is when it comes to
alcohol and your children. Before what happened to Megan, as a parent myself, you’re guided by what you did when you were young and what your family did with you,” she said.
“A lot of parents think if you provide them with a little bit of alcohol in a controlled environment it’s safer, and that’s what I did. But going through what I’ve been through, my perception of alcohol has completely changed and my advice to other parents would be to delay introducing alcohol for as long as possible.”
For more information, visit whatstheharm.co.uk.