New guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends parents talk to their kids about drinking before they hit double digits.
In a clinical report on binge drinking published in the journal Pediatrics, members of the AAP's committee on substance abuse recommend parents talk to children as young as nine:
Surveys indicate that children start to think positively about alcohol between ages 9 and 13 years. The more young people are exposed to alcohol advertising and marketing, the more likely they are to drink, and if they are already drinking, this exposure leads them to drink more. Therefore, it is very important to start talking to children about the dangers of drinking as early as 9 years of age.
The report adds that more than one-fifth of American youth (21%) say they've had more than a sip of alcohol before their thirteenth birthday. And kids who drink tend to drink a lot—the AAP found that half of those aged 12–14 who consume alcohol are heavy drinkers.
In a statement, report co-author Dr. Lorena Siqueira said that parents shouldn't assume that kids won't listen to their warnings. “Kids do listen…even though they might pretend they don’t," she said. This is true even for teens; per the AAP report, 80% of teens cite their parents as the biggest influence on their behavior toward alcohol.
The AAP recommendations reach further than individual parents, however. The paper describes a "multi-pronged" approach which, among other things, includes "targeting alcohol advertising and the entertainment media."
According to a January study, there is a link between teen exposure to alcohol advertising and binge drinking. Co-author James Sargent told Time he found "very strong evidence that underage drinkers are not only exposed to the television advertising, but they also assimilate the messages…that process moves them forward in their drinking behavior.”
In some cases, it seems alcohol sellers target kids specifically. Four Loko maker Phusion Projects agreed to change it marketing tactics in 2014 after it was accused of targeting underage drinkers. Phusion Projects president Jim Sloan said at the time that, “Underage drinking and alcohol abuse are serious problems in need of serious solutions…They will not, however, be solved by singling out specific products or alcoholic beverage categories.” Gotta start somewhere.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.