Tuesday, December 15, 1998 Published at 13:59 GMT
Permissive parents lead children to drink
Young drinkers are influenced by their parents
Contrary to popular belief, English parents are more likely to encourage their children to drink than the Spanish and French.
A survey by researchers at the University of Portsmouth found that English parents are far more permissive in their attitude to underage drinking than parents in Norway, France and Spain.
Norwegian parents were particularly negative about children aged 11 to 15 drinking.
In England, 40% of parents surveyed were unlikely to be strict about underage drinking.
The Adolescent Drinking and Family Life Study in Europe research found that there was a strong relationship between parental attitudes to alcohol and teenage drinking, suggesting a need for parents to be the focus of education campaigns.
They studied children aged 11, 13 and 15 and found that the amount of alcohol drunk by children varied widely.
Three per cent of the children said they had drunk more than 36 units of alcohol in the last week.
Fifty-eight per cent had not drunk at all and 21% had had between one and five units.
A unit of alcohol is equivalent to half a pint of ordinary strength beer, cider or lager, a small glass of wine and a 25ml measure of spirits.
Over half of all 15 year olds said they had alcohol at least once a week.
Twelve per cent of those who drank said they had enough to get drunk. Eighteen per cent just drank until they felt 'merry'.
The researchers asked the children if their parents drank more than once a week.
English and French fathers were most likely to set a bad example with up to 40% of their children saying they drank regularly.
The researchers, who presented their findings to a British Psychological Society conference in London on Tuesday, found that, for Norwegian children, their parents' attitude to drink was an important factor in whether they drank or not.
In France and England, parents' alcohol intake and parental attitudes to underage drinking were key factors in whether they drank.
The researchers said their findings showed the need for alcohol misuse groups to target parents.
Alcohol Concern said other research showed that children whose parents drank sensibly were more likely to have a balanced attitude to alcohol than those who were either tee-total or had a drink problem.
"Parents have a very important role to play," said a spokeswoman for the charity.
She added that their role was probably more important than that of peers in that they laid the foundations for children's attitudes to drinking.
It was not usually until age 12 and up that children who wanted to drink started looking for friends to drink with, she said.
Alcohol Concern says parents should be involved in alcohol education programmes and says the programmes should not simply be tagged onto drug education sessions.
"It is totally different as it is a legal drug," said the spokeswoman.