Should you offer your teenager a drink at home?

Some parents try to eliminate the “forbidden fruit” aspect of alcohol by offering their teenager half a glass of wine with their dinner or a beer in the sauna. Others think it’s OK to allow their children to see what alcohol tastes like in the belief that they’ll find it revolting. But whatever you think is the best approach, the research all shows the same thing: if you offer children alcohol, you’re telling them it’s OK to drink, even though they’re not an adult. You can’t, in other words, teach youngsters how to drink alcohol in moderation by offering them a drink at home. The only thing you’re teaching them is to drink.

It sends the wrong signals

The law does not prohibit you offering your own children a small quantity of alcohol, provided it’s done in a controlled manner. It’s not illegal, in other words, to offer your teenager a splash of wine at the dinner table. But even if the law says it’s OK, it sends your teenager the wrong signals. If you explain that alcohol can cause physical harm and that it’s actually dangerous, isn’t it going to look a bit odd if you offer them a glass now and then? It can actually give the impression that you, as a parent, don’t care.

My parents let me have a taste when they're drinking wine. They don't really mind that much. They just laugh and think it's fun.

Majken, aged 15, Örebro

It doesn’t make teenagers drink less

Teenagers are seldom interested in a relaxed, moderate approach to alcohol. Teenagers who drink don’t do so to relax or because it tastes good. Young people primarily drink to get drunk. There is no research showing that a teenager who drinks half a glass of wine at home drinks less when they’re out later that evening with their friends. There is, however, research showing that teenagers who are offered alcohol at home drink more in general. If you’re allowed to drink at home, it’s like a permission slip to drink when you’re out too.

When my parents drink, I usually take a quick swig when they're not looking. Because that way, you know what it tastes like and can sort of get used to it.

Sanna, aged 15, Gothenburg

Your attitude matters

Your attitude is very important in determining whether your teenager drinks. One in every five ninth graders whose parents think it’s OK for teenagers to drink alcohol binge drink alcohol every month. If you ask ninth graders whose parents say “no”, fewer than 6 per cent get drunk that often.

Present a united family front

Try and make sure that all of the adult members of the family have the same attitude towards offering teenagers alcohol at home. Come to an agreement with the other parent or the new partner as to where the boundary lies.

More to read about the same topic

Yes or no?

The clearer you communicate your expectations, the easier it is for your teenager to take a stand or do what you say. Also, think about what sort of message and values you’re conveying to your child.

Useful contacts and more info

It can sometimes be good to talk to someone who knows a bit more about teenagers and alcohol, or about anything else, for that matter.

If you want to do more

There’s a lot you can do to support and be there for teenagers. Maybe you can take part in night-time patrols, or make it easier for them to say “no”, or help promote a smarter approach to alcohol in some other way.

Other important topics to read about

Teenagers and alcohol

There are many considerations that can easily arise when your child becomes a teenager. But first and foremost: how do young people think about drinking themselves? And why is it more dangerous to drink alcohol in adolescence than as an adult?

Take responsibility

Maybe you sometimes feel pretty helpless as a parent. But there’s a lot you can do. As always showing that you care, that you’re there and that you are happy to listen. And often it’s important to be clear about what you expect of your teenager.

If parents are not around

Festivals, home parties and trips abroad are examples of situations where adults are rarely present. There are some pitfalls that you, as a parent, should be aware of and that you can teach your teenager how to handle.

The teenage years

The teenage years are a very special time in your child’s life. Teenagers are navigating the frontier lands between childhood and adulthood and there are a lot of new things to handle: school, friends, being allowed to stay out late, sex, parties and – not least – alcohol.

Teenager’s drinking habits

Not only is it illegal to buy alcohol for young people, but most adults think that alcohol is something teenagers should be avoiding. So where are teenagers getting their alcohol? How much do they drink? And what sort of problems do young people experience in connection to alcohol?

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