While Americans are debating whether to lower the minimum legal drinking age from 21 to 18, teenagers in Europe are falling into coma or are dying from overintoxication. Many countries in Europe have a minimum legal drinking age of 18. In England, a country where adulthood (e.g legal age) is at 16, there is no such thing as minimum age for drinking. According to English law, parents are allowed to give their children alcohol at home – starting – brace yourself – at age 5!
Recently however, UK’s Children Secretary Ed Ball issued a warning about the dangers of under-age drinking (source: BBC). This is in response to a survey carried out by Mumsnet which revealed that many parents in Britain do not consider alcohol consumption a serious risk to the underaged, e.g. those between the age of 9 and 16 years. Most parents are more worried about illegal drugs, vehicular accidents and teenage pregnancy. In fact, only about twenty-five (25%) of parents surveyed took the time to talk to their kids are the dangers of alcohol. About two-thirds (approximately 66%) of the parents did not consider the fact that their children get access to alcohol before they reach 16 a problem. In fact, a previous survey showed that 20% of 13-year-olds already consume alcohol at least once a week.
The Children Secretary, however, emphasized that alcohol is closely linked to risky behavior and the very issues that most parents are most concerned about in the first place, namely teenage pregnancy and traffic accidents.
According to Mr. Ball
“Research tells us that young people who regularly drink alcohol are more likely to fall behind in school, be involved in road traffic accidents or have unsafe sex…If parents discuss the link between alcohol and these other issues, they can make sure it’s their child making the decisions, not the alcohol.”
Secretary Ball is not the one campaigning against laxness about alcohol. England’s chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson said in a BBC interview that “children aged under 15 should never be given alcohol, even in small quantities.” In fact, a new official guidance was issued recently that says adolescents under 15 should not consume alcohol and those under 18 should only drink under the supervision of an adult. Donaldson continues:
“Across England, 500,000 children between the ages of 11 to 15 years will have been drunk in the past four weeks….
The science is clear – drinking, particularly at a young age, a lack of parental supervision, exposing children to drink-fuelled events and failing to engage with them as they grow up are the root causes from which our country’s serious alcohol problem has developed…
The more [children] get a taste for it, the more likely they are to be heavy drinking adults or binge drinkers later in childhood.”