Case for Change

Overall, parents are the most common source of alcohol for young people. They may also influence when a young people has their first sip.

Supply of alcohol from parents is not risk-free. It is related to heavier drinking and harm, when compared to young people who cannot access alcohol from their parents.

Most adolescent drinking occurs in the home setting; either at the person's own home or at someone else's.

Parents play an important role in delaying alcohol use and supervising any consumption.

There are a range of reasons why parents give alcohol, or do not give alcohol, to young people. Most parents are concerned about immediate risks, rather than the long-term consequences.

Parents are a common source of alcohol

In 2012, New Zealand high school students reported that their parents were the most common source of alcohol.

Many drinkers reported more than one source of alcohol:

  • Parents (60%)
  • Friends (44%)
  • Someone else buys it for them – not a parent (30%).
  • Buy their own (11%) - this includes a few students who were 18 years or over.

Drinking often happens in homes

In addition to supplying alcohol to their children, parents also play a major role in the supervision of drinking.

The majority of young New Zealanders consume alcohol at someone else’s home or in their own home. In 2012, drinking occasions of New Zealand adolescents commonly occurred with friends (83%), family (53%), and/or with another person (15%). A higher proportion of students who lived in deprived neighbourhoods (59%) drank with their family when compared to those living in the least deprived neighbourhoods (49%).

Harm from parents supplying alcohol

Getting alcohol from parents has been linked to increased risky drinking and alcohol-related harm. Alcohol suppled by parents can double the likelihood of becoming a risky drinker (compared to young people who do not obtain alcohol from parents).

There is no evidence to support the common belief that parents can “socialise” their children by providing them with alcohol and a “safe place” to drink.

It is strongly recommended that parents delay alcohol use by their children. Providing alcohol may be perceived by a young person as communicating approval of their drinking.

Reasons that NZ parents do not supply alcohol

When New Zealand parents were asked why they did not supply alcohol to their children, they gave the following reasons:

  • Parents knew, from their own experience, of the harm from alcohol
  • They wanted to be law-abiding
  • Drinking by younger teenagers aged 12 - 14 years was considered out of bounds (they were too young)
  • Religious reasons

Reasons that NZ parents supply alcohol

When New Zealand parents were asked why they supplied alcohol to their children, they gave the following reasons:

  • Preparation for the legal age/age of the teenager
  • Modelling good behaviour around alcohol
  • Parents own personal experience
  • Was drinking under age when they were young
  • Having older siblings/ friends
  • Will be drinking anyway so better to know what they are drinking
  • Keeping the peace
  • Perceptions of parents wanting to be cool/ be their child’s friend
  • Think there is no harm in it
  • Get it from someone else anyway

Alcohol harms that parents were most worried about

New Zealand parents rated the harms from adolescent drinking they were most concerned about. In order of priority, they were:

  1.   Motor vehicle accidents.
  2.   Crime and victimisation.
  3.   Sexual risk taking.
  4.   Impacts on the developing brain.
  5.   Mental health.
  6.   Other injuries (e.g. risk of falls).

Research has often shown that parents tend to be more concerned with the short-term consequences (e.g., car accidents) of alcohol use by their children than the long-term outcomes (e.g., impaired brain development)[23].

Other ways that parents influence adolescent drinking

Parents also influence adolescent alcohol use in the following ways:

  • offering sips and tastes
  • allowing and supervising adolescent alcohol use
  • hosting an alcohol event (e.g., in the home, at a family gathering)
  • providing alcohol.

Want to know more?

Harms from adolescent drinking  Trends in adolescent drinking in New Zealand

Alcohol availability and adolescent drinking

Factors that protect young people from harm