On 20 November 2015 new laws came into effect regarding the secondary supply of alcohol in Western Australia. Under this law it is an offence for anyone to supply under 18 year-olds with alcohol in a private setting without parental or guardian permission. The maximum penalty for this offence is $10,000.

Parents not wanting their children to drink alcohol are now able to stand firm in their decision not to provide young people with alcohol as secondary supply law means adults are legally not able to give alcohol to another person’s child, on a private premise, without parental permission.

For more information about the secondary supply laws, the consequences of underage drinking and tips for talking to your child about alcohol check out the fact sheets below.

What we know about ‘sips and tastes’
For many years, academics and community members believed that providing alcohol to children in the home while being supervised by parents would protect them from future drinking, and in particular, binge drinking.1,2 Some of these studies noted that protection from future drinking depended on the specific context in which children were introduced to alcohol. For example, a telephone survey of 6,245 US adolescents found that teenagers who were with their parents last time they drank alcohol, drank less often and less excessively. In contrast, teenagers whose parents or friends’ parents gave them alcohol at a party, drank more often and at dangerous levels drinking.3,4 This ‘protective effect’ was based on the idea that teenagers could be ‘taught’ to drink responsibly and would be given ‘safer’ types and quantities of alcohol.5 However, recent research has begun to show the opposite effect.6,5 This could be due to changes in the way studies are carried out. But, it’s more likely due to changes in the way young people drink and community attitudes to underage drinking.

A study tracked children aged 8 and 10 for 7.5 years. It found that sipping or tasting alcohol by age 10 (which was mainly in a family context), predicted young people drinking earlier.7 Another study followed 1,388 students in Chicago public schools from 6th grade to 8th grade. Surveys were also completed by their parents at the start of the study. The study found that students who reported parents providing them with alcohol, were more likely to drink alcohol or intend to drink alcohol.8 This outcome was the same for alcohol use in the past year, past month and past week. It was also the same for getting drunk, binge drinking, and intentions to drink in the next month, at high school, and if offered alcohol by a friend.

Perhaps the strongest evidence comes from a study conducted over three years across two countries with different alcohol policies. Washington State, US has a zero-tolerance policy, while Victoria, Australia has a harm-minimisation policy. Seventh grade students in both countries were surveyed every year for three years (2002-2004). In both policy contexts, adult-supervised drinking did not prevent alcohol use or harmful use. Instead, it resulted in more harmful levels of drinking.6,5

A survey was carried out in 2002 with 452 children aged 8 or 10 years and their families in Pennsylvania. The study found that 43% (35% of 8 year olds and 48% of 10 year olds) had a sip or taste of alcohol. The vast majority had the sip or taste at a family dinner, family celebration, or religious event. Six percent reported having a drink of alcohol.7 In a survey of 530 secondary students in New South Wales, Australia, 40.7% of drinkers reported getting alcohol from their parents in the last month. There were only small differences between age groups, although younger students were more likely to report that their parents were their main source of alcohol; and 19.1% from a friend’s parents.6

A postal survey of Swedish parents of children aged 12-16 years (n=779) found that only 2.2% of parents reported that their child had been served a glass of alcohol at home. On the other hand, 34.0% reported that their child had been allowed to take a sip of alcohol from a glass at home.9 Similar results were found in an Irish survey of 234 parents of 13-17 year olds. Twenty-seven percent believed that introducing children to alcohol at home was a good idea and 11% had offered their teen an alcoholic drink. In an online survey of parents of 14-16 year olds in Victoria, Australia, 37% of the 274 parents who reported that their child did or might drink alcohol reported supplying them with ‘more than a sip’ of alcohol in the last three months.10

There are a number of possible reasons for the differences between adolescent and parent reports of alcohol provision. For example, there may be actual differences between the families from which the children and parents were sampled.

However, these differences are also obvious in the small number of studies that have included children and parents from the same families. For example, in the Pennsylvania study, among those children who reported having sipped or tasted alcohol, one-third of mothers and one-half of fathers reported not knowing that their child had done so. This was despite the majority of children reporting sipping with family.7 This suggests that other explanations may be equally important. In particular, parents may be responding in a way that they believe to be socially acceptable. Whatever the reasons for the differences – or the exact proportion of parents who provide alcohol to their children and younger teens – the behaviour is clearly widespread.

Sociodemographics: A recent review of the literature on parental supply 11 found that very few studies have reported significant differences in parental supply (or attitudes to supply) related to sociodemographic and behavioural differences. There have been a few studies which have found that parents from higher sociodemographic groups, those who are less religious, and those who themselves are regular drinkers are somewhat ‘more permissive’.7,12-16 However, the majority of studies report no significant differences related to parent age, gender, education level, employment status; child gender or birth order. However, several have found an association between parental drinking and ‘sip and taste’ attitudes and behaviours.7,13,15,17,18,19

Attitudes: Several studies conducted in Australia, New Zealand and the UK have found that parents believe adolescents should be allowed to drink alcohol before reaching the age of 18 years.1,2,6,20 Consistently throughout the literature, parents report that they see parental supply as an effective way of reducing harms caused by alcohol.1,6,12,13,20-22 The most common, and commonly supported, reasons include that not allowing their children to drink will encourage them to experiment behind parents’ backs, that children who sip small amounts at home will be less likely to experiment with risky drinking as teens, and that parents can ‘teach’ their child how to ‘handle’ alcohol and/or to prevent them from ‘trying’ alcohol in an unsupervised situation.

Subjective norms: Studies assessing subjective norms have generally found high awareness of perceived social norms among other parents, teenagers, and the broader community; conflicting norms between groups; and a clear association between norms and behaviours. For example, in a South Australian survey of 161 mothers of children aged 10 to 14, 16.7% reported that they felt pressured by others to allow their children to drink before the age of 18 [injunctive norm]. About one third (37.3%) said that they would teach their children about alcohol the same way their parents taught them [descriptive norm].2

Perceived behavioural control: Studies in Australia and New Zealand have found that parents feel powerless to prevent their children drinking and thus feel that allowing them to drink at home was unavoidable.1,6,23 They also feel that their influence will be overruled by Australian cultural expectations and by their child’s peers.2,23

1. Bourdeau, B., Miller, B., Vanya, M., Duke, M., & Ames, G. (2012). Defining alcohol-specific rules among parents of older adolescents: Moving beyond no tolerance. Journal of family communication, 12(2), 111-128. doi: 10.1080/15267431.2011.561140
2. Roberts, R., Beckwith, M., & Watts, D. (2010). Mothers’ intentions to introduce their adolescent to alcohol use: does mothers’ alcohol use effect intentions? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 34(3), 281-287. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-6405.2010.00527.x
3. Dietze, P. M., & Livingston, M. (2010). The relationship between alcohol supply source and young people’s risky drinking and alcohol-related problem behaviours in Victoria, Australia. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 34(4), 364-367. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-6405.2010.00567.x
4. Foley, K. l., Altman, D., Durant, R. h., & Wolfson, M. (2004). Adults’ approval and adolescents’ alcohol use. Journal of Adolescent Health, 35(4), 345.e317-345.e326. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2003.12.001
5. Lundborg, P. (2007). Parents’ willingness to provide alcohol and adolescents’ alcohol use – Evidence from Swedish data. [Article]. Vulnerable Children & Youth Studies, 2(1), 60-70. doi: 10.1080/17450120601130581
6. Gilligan, C., Kypri, K., Johnson, N., Lynagh, M., & Love, S. (2012). Parental supply of alcohol and adolescent risky drinking. Drug and Alcohol Review, 31(6), 754-762. doi: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2012.00418.x
7. Donovan, J. E., & Molina, B. S. G. (2008). Children’s introduction to alcohol use: Sips and tastes. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 32(1), 108-119. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2007.00565.x
8. Komro, K. A., Maldonado-Molina, M. M., Tobler, A. L., Bonds, J. R., & Muller, K. E. (2007). Effects of home access and availability of alcohol on young adolescents’ alcohol use. Addiction, 102(10), 1597-1608. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2007.01941.x
9. Pettersson, C., Linden-Boström, M., & Eriksson, C. (2009). Parental attitudes and behaviour concerning adolescent alcohol consumption: do sociodemographic factors matter? Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 37(5), 509-517. doi: 10.1177/1403494809105790
10. Ward, B. M., & Snow, P. C. (2011b). Parents’ plans to supply their adolescents with alcohol. Australian Journal of Primary Health, 17(2), 169-174. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/PY10039
11. Jones, S. C. (2015). Parental provision of alcohol: a TPB-framed review of the literature. Health Promotion International. doi: 10.1093/heapro/dav028
12. Chan, G. C. K., Leung, J., Quinn, C., Kelly, A. B., Connor, J. P., Weier, M., & Hall, W. D. (2016). Rural and urban differences in adolescent alcohol use, alcohol supply, and parental drinking. The Journal of Rural Health, 32(3), 280-286. doi: 10.1111/jrh.12151
13. Jackson, C., Ennett, S. T., Dickinson, D. M., & Bowling, J. M. (2012). Letting children sip: Understanding why parents allow alcohol use by elementary school-aged children. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine, 166(11), 1053-1057. doi: 10.1001/archpediatrics.2012.1198
14. Morleo, M., Cook, P. A., Elliott, G., & Phillips-Howard, P. A. (2013). Parental knowledge of alcohol consumption: a cross sectional survey of 11–17 year old schoolchildren and their parents. [journal article]. BMC Public Health, 13(1), 1-10. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-13-412
15. Smyth, B. P., Darker, C. D., Donnelly-Swift, E., Barry, J. M., & Allwright, S. P. (2010). A telephone survey of parental attitudes and behaviours regarding teenage drinking. [journal article]. BMC Public Health, 10(1), 1-8. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-10-297
16. Song, E.-Y., Smiler, A. P., Wagoner, K. G., & Wolfson, M. (2012). Everyone says it’s OK: Adolescents’ perceptions of peer, parent, and community alcohol norms, alcohol consumption, and alcohol-related consequences. Substance Use & Misuse, 47(1), 86-98. doi: 10.3109/10826084.2011.629704
17. Gilligan, C., Toumbourou, J. W., Kypri, K., & McElduff, P. (2014). Factors associated with parental rules for adolescent alcohol use. Substance Use & Misuse, 49(1-2), 145-153. doi: 10.3109/10826084.2013.824471
18. Mathijssen, J. J. P., Janssen, M. M., van Bon-Martens, M. J. H., van Oers, H. A. M., de Boer, E., & Garretsen, H. F. L. (2014). Alcohol segment-specific associations between the quality of the parent–child relationship and adolescent alcohol use. BMC Public Health, 14, 872. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-14-872
19. Pettigrew, S., Pescud, M., Jarvis, W., & Webb, D. (2013). Teens’ blog accounts of the role of adults in youth alcohol consumption. Journal of Social Marketing, 3(1), 28-40. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/20426761311297216
20. Kypri, K., Dean, J. I., & Stojanovski, E. (2007). Parent attitudes on the supply of alcohol to minors. Drug and Alcohol Review, 26(1), 41-47. doi: 10.1080/09595230601037018
21. Graham ML, Ward B, Munro G, Snow P, & J, E. (2006). Rural parents, teenagers and alcohol: What are parents thinking? . Rural and Remote Health, 6(383). Retrieved from http://www.rrh.org.au/articles/subviewnew.asp?ArticleID=383
22. Ward, B. M., & Snow, P. C. (2011a). Factors affecting parental supply of alcohol to underage adolescents. Drug and Alcohol Review, 30(4), 338-343. doi: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2010.00228.x
23. Friese, B., Grube, J. W., Moore, R. S., & Jennings, V. K. (2012). Parents’ rules about underage drinking: A qualitative study of why parents let teens drink. Journal of Drug Education, 42(4), 379-391. doi: 10.2190/DE.42.4.a