(Reuters Health) – Children may learn from an early age when it’s appropriate to drink and how many drinks are okay from watching all the adults in their lives, a Dutch study suggests.
Researchers asked 75 fathers and 83 mothers how common it would be for adults to drink in a range of situations like during a party, at work, while watching television or while driving. Then, they asked 359 unrelated children, ages 4 to 8, in which situations they thought it was common or appropriate for adults to drink.
As kids got older, they became increasingly aware of social norms surrounding alcohol consumption, researchers report in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism. Familiarity with alcohol might make kids more likely to start drinking earlier in life or lead to more frequent drinking, the study team notes.
“Kids model parental behavior,” said Richard Mattick of the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
“Parents who drink in front of youngsters make drinking a norm,” Mattick, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.
Fathers drank more than mothers, the study found. Men consumed about 8.6 standardized alcohol units a week, compared with 4.4 for women. One unit contains 10 grams of ethanol, or pure alcohol, and might be equivalent to one to three drinks depending on the alcohol content in each beverage.
Parents most often said drinking was common at events like a party, Christmas dinner, restaurant dinner or barbeque.
Fewer parents found drinking common at everyday dinners, or while at a picnic or watching television. Drinking was least common while driving, reading, working or eating lunch, according to the parents.
Kids, meanwhile, found drinking more common while watching television or partying.
Children found drinking uncommon while reading, eating lunch or working at an office.
The kids also said adults drank more in common situations for alcohol consumption, which the study authors conclude means the children are learning appropriate drinking behavior from observing adults.
Very few parents and children invited to participate did so, leaving a very small sample of participants whose views’ may not reflect what all Dutch families would say about alcohol consumption, the study team notes.
Lead author Carmen Voogt of the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction, in Utrecht, didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.
The findings suggest that children become aware of social norms surrounding alcohol consumption from an early age, Voogt and colleagues write.
Most Dutch youth start drinking in adolescence, and many prevention efforts focus on this age group, the authors note. But this may be too late, the researchers conclude.
Early exposure to adults who drink and childhood knowledge of drinking norms “can create the impression that alcohol is omnipresent and socially endorsed,” which some previous research has linked to teen drinking, the authors write.
SOURCE: bit.ly/37wJ1MY Alcohol and Alcoholism, online December 11, 2019.