When should children drink alcohol?

Now before you get all hot under the collar and suggest I’m advocating child abuse, would you like a drink?

A refreshing G&T or perhaps a glass of something cold and white? You deserve one, it’s been a tough day.

There’s something I’ve been struggling with. Here in Scotland, booze is a problem. It costs the country heaps in sick days, mess, violence, illness and general think-tank-led head scratching. And that’s before you count up the personal misery caused by alcoholism and violence.

It seems it’s not possible to have any fun in this country without having a bevvy, a bucket-full or a swallae. It’s the backbone of the famous Scottish hospitality – a wee dram, one for the road. Apparently there is nothing more mortifying than not having enough drink in and no better way to offend a Scotsman than refuse his tot.

Before we go any further, I’m aware this is starting to sound like a big ol’ rant from top of Moral Highground Mountain. It’s not really, I’ve supped and sipped as much as the next woman. It’s just now I hate the hangovers with such a passion it tempers what goes before, a lesson it only took some 30 years to learn.

Top up? There’s a lovely bottle of red over there.

Now. Some of my earliest memories are steeped in alcohol. Dad’s nightly sherry. My maternal grandfather dispensing Scotch and bonhomie. My paternal grandfather sharing a blend of God knows what from his leather gourd at the top of a hill. There was the bit on the wall at my grandparent’s house where his party order for spirits was scribbled down. When it said “gin – 2” it meant cases not bottles.

We kids were allowed alcohol from an earlyish age – watered wine or sherry, shandy or slurps from Grandpa’s bottle. I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but at home it wasn’t forbidden. I imagine I tried it out of curiosity. To see what the fuss was all about.

But now my children are approaching the age I had my first snifter and I’m not sure what to do. On the one hand drink is Very Bad for Young People. According to reports they are getting plastered all over the place, getting pregnant, attacked, addicted. And on the other, I’ve never been one to tell people what not to do (really, PoN) and I do like a glass of something stiff from time to time myself.

The popular notion is that the French – who seem, equally anecdotally, to be able to drink in a civilised manner – let their kids wash their escargot down with vin from the earliest age. Do they?

Did you know that in the UK it is legal to give your children alcohol in a supervised manner from the age of five. Allowing them to become intoxicated isn’t though.

So my fear is that my sweet juice-slurping children will turn into alcopop-fuelled louts as soon as they grow enough chin fluff to be worth shaving. Can I steer them towards something more like moderation or are they just doomed already?

Shall I give my big Boys a drink – beer, wine, sherry? When, how much? Shall I just have them watch the Panther of News and I on a Chablis rampage so they can see how it’s done?

Anyhow, best rush or we’ll miss last orders. Cheers.

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  1. says

    Being a tee-totaller I'm probably not the best person to comment! But I do remember drinking so much at the age of 15 and my dad sitting in the bathroom with me as I threw up in the toilet. He told me it was my own fault and I should have known better! I guess at 15 I should.

    I won't be encouraging Amy to drink at all but I wouldn't stop her having a sip when she's older. As for children drinking alcohol, I'm afraid I don't agree with that at all.

    CJ xx

  2. says

    Zack stole some of my (very VERY watered down) Passoa and orange juice at new years. He was so hyper, it was hilarious! Does that mean I'm a bad mother? Maybe, but fk it. He loved being able to stay up late like his mum and it's been a complete once off. Will I let him have a wee one again this new year's? Most likely!

  3. says

    My two eldest boys are allowed a shandy or small glass of beer at new years and special occasions, one loves it, the other, not keen. I think that if it's there, and they know they can have it, they don't go so crazy with it when they get a bit older. Worked with me anyway.

    Sal. X

  4. says

    Funnily enough I've just written a feature on this very subject, and the advice from the experts is that a little alcohol at home is actually not as harmless as you think because it can lead to a taste for it. It's always worth remembering that France, where of course wine with meals for kids has always been allowed, has a really high incidence of cirrhosis-related deaths too, I think.

  5. Jo says

    Hello PoN,

    I was thinking about this earlier. I don't know what I'll do with Cara.

    My parents and their parents before them went for the continental approach of letting us have sips of beer / wine when we were tweens, and maybe from 13-14 onwards we were allowed spritzers on special occasions. They had the same approach for all of us, and we all drink different amounts of alcohol now (and did as teens / early twenties). I am by far the biggest lush, although now it's in the middle class mum glass or two of wine most evenings type way, one sister is almost entirely tee-total, apart from high days and holidays and my brother is more of a binger, he's only 23 so might be more his social scene. My other sister is similar to me now, but was never into the going out clubbing etc. and unlike me was able to show some restraint even at a young age.

    So, I conclude that I will probably do much the same as my parents did, because I don't like the idea of Cara having to sneak off behind my back to do something (and imo almost all teenagers will experiment with alcohol before they are 18). I think whether they go off the rails with drink probably depends more on their personality and whether they actually enjoy drinking / getting drunk.

    Haha, remind me of this laid back response in 10 years!

  6. says

    My Glaswegian granny occasionally gave me a wee dram after school, which I'm sure would now be considered child abuse……personally, I wouldn't give my kids alcohol til after 10/11ish (because that seems pretty old to me right now!), but I wouldn't think it a big deal if other people did…. :)

  7. says

    The continental way is often cited in this discussion, but their entire culture isn't centred around drink the way it is in Britain. That their children don't grow up binge drinking has more to do with the culture in the UK than anything else. I remember in my late teens (legal) the practice was to go out bar-hopping and basically drink till someone shouted last orders. You would even see some people ordering doubles just to get one more drink in them before closing.
    ALl the evidence seems to suggest that the eralier kids start drinking, the more likely they are to have a problem with it.
    Not quite sure what I think as I have two teens at the moment and am facing the same question. One is likely to go beserk with it, and the other – not so much.

  8. says

    I was allowed to drink alcohol with food from a very early age and do allow my children a sip or two of wine if they are eating – I don't want them to grow up with alcohol as a big *thing* I'm certainly not going to forbid it I'd like them to have a healthy relationship with it – no binging, no terrible hangovers, just taken in moderation should they wish too.

  9. says

    Jo, I think you're probably right. I just wonder if there's anything we can do to help.

    Rachel, Your granny sounds like quite a character. I wonder if that was common practice then.

    EM, The culture must have a big impact on what kids do. There's a suggestion that peer pressure is the strongest influence on teens. Good luck with your children.

    WW, a sensible approach.

  10. says

    I'm undecided at the moment. I'll probably decide the same way I do everything. When I am in the situation and I have to.

    In saying that neither myself or my brothers are really bothered about drinking. I have a glass of wine some weekends (one glass, I can't handle any more) and maybe two nights out a year. I genuinely think the reason was our upbringing.

    Mum and my stepdad ran “working mens” pubs. From quite an early age we were involved- washing the stale beer out of drip trays, mopping up the spilled dregs of pints, and even (when we were older) helping to clean the toilets after a hardened drinker had 15 pints of the black stuff. Enough to put you off for life. We saw the dirty smelly disgusting side of alcohol in Scotland it makes you think.

    That and working behind the bar males you see what an eejit drunk people make of themselves. My kids won't see that side of it but it shaped my view of alcohol so that'll no doubt form my attitude to their introduction to it.

  11. says

    Hi MammyD, I imagine that you saw the very worst of drinking at a young age. It concerns me that heavy drinking is discussed as if it's a positive thing, especially in Scotland. Not that I want to be a party pooper, but…
    Actually I was thinking about writing something about the particularly Scottish phenomena the Booze Bully – the person who won't let you get away with drinking what you want and badgers you into having more.

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