Parents told to rethink giving teens alcohol

Dr Andrew Rochford

Parents are being asked to re-think when they allow young people to use alcohol.

Research shows that the European idea of letting them start early doesn't stand up and delaying its use by teens as long as possible, even past 18 to 21 years.

For many of us our first experience of alcohol is a sip of wine at the dinner table with mum and dad.

On average, Aussie kids get their first taste at 15 and a half years old.

But with new research indicating alcohol can seriously interfere with young people's brain development, at what age and how, should we be introducing the next generation of drinkers to alcohol?

Like smoking, we know the health dangers of over consumption of alcohol.

But controlling teen drinking when booze saturates so many parts of society is difficult for many parents.

John Scott from DrinkWise says: "We'd advise that parents delay for as long as possible, acknowledging that many parents know that their kids are going to start drinking or sneaking the occasional drink, but we'd say delay as long as possible."

The European Model is a popular theory with parents saying 'they're better off drinking at home with me where I can supervise' in the belief this somehow protects teens from binge drinking later.

Controlling teen drinking when booze saturates so many parts of society is difficult for many parents, but experts say it's important to encourage making good decisions in young teens. Photo: 7News

But the National Drug and Alcohol Centre studied 2000 families over four years and proved it doesn't work.

Professor Ian Hickie from Brain and Mind Research Institute: "In fact, it's the opposite, you've probably normalised the behaviour and probably increase the chance that they'll drink irresponsibly in another place."

Excessive drinking kills off connections between nerve cells.

Then it kills the nerve cells themselves, and interferes with the brain's circuitry.

It's possible for brain cells to regenerate and recover.

But, parents have the biggest influence on their teen's drinking, and their vulnerable developing brains.

Professor Hickey: "It's important for you to say 'I'm concerned because your brain's still growing, I'm concerned that you won't get the maximum brain function at the end of the day."

Modern science has clearly shown that alcohol is toxic to brain cells, especially young, developing brains.

Being a responsible drinker comes down to making good decisions. To make good decisions, you need a brain that's reached full potential.

Protecting growing brains from alcohol-induced damage for as long as possible makes sense, at least 18 or even older.

It's imperative in creating a generation of safe, smart drinkers.

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