'Cocktails' for kids sending a dangerous message

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

They came complete with cute names like Cherry Fizz, were served with maraschino cherries on sticks, and featured ingredients like lemonade, ginger beer, lime and cherry syrup.

But the "cocktails for kids" being offered to the youngest patrons during a festival at an outdoor arts venue I visited recently left a sour taste in my mouth. Similar mocktails are also becoming increasingly common as a treat at kids birthday parties across the country. It makes me wonder – are the colourful drinks sending a dangerous message?

Drinking alcohol is a big part of Australian culture and kids are already bombarded with images of people drinking, surely they don't need to also be encouraged to mimic adults with special drinks of their own?

Alcohol and Drug Foundation Spokesperson Laura Bajurny agrees and says serving "kids' cocktails" at child-focused events was concerning.

"Calling the drinks 'kids' cocktails' implies that you 'graduate' to drinking alcohol when you reach adulthood," Ms Bajurny said.

"Cocktails are popularly constructed as being a sophisticated drink, and since many young people desire to be seen as grown-up and sophisticated it's troubling that this belief be reinforced at an arts event.

"It indicates how strong our drinking culture is that this event, and potentially many of its participants, took no issue with giving children the notion to drink at a very early age. And that drinking culture is very tied up in the belief that you can't have fun without alcohol."

She said that normalising alcohol consumption around children could have a lasting impact on their attitudes towards drinking.

"Making the concept of alcohol fun for children normalises alcohol consumption, and it reinforces the social norm that we must have alcohol to have fun," she said.

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"Many parents are concerned about the impact of alcohol advertising on children, yet making the concept of alcohol fun for children by promoting "kids' cocktails" is doing the alcohol advertiser's job for them."

According to the ADF, the average age a child first tries alcohol is 16.1 years old and 13 per cent of 16-17 year olds drank at risky levels (that's 5 plus standard drinks on one occasion, and that's the guideline for adults). 

For 12-17 year olds who drank in the past week, parents were the most common source of alcohol with 39 per cent of those young drinkers supplied alcohol by their parents.

"We know that children with parents who give them alcohol, or have a permissive attitude towards their child drinking, tend to drink earlier, drink more often, and drink more alcohol on an occasion," Ms Bajurny says.

"Drinking alcohol around children is significant, because parents are the biggest influence on their children (even if it doesn't always feel like it) and their behaviour and attitudes towards alcohol have a powerful impact.

"A child's future drinking habits are affected by parental role-modelling of alcohol consumption – and, as every parent knows, kids are very observant.

The good news is children are not drinking at an earlier age, in fact, they are trying alcohol at a later age with the average age of initiation to alcohol rising from 14 years to 16.1 years in the past decade.

However, there are children who start to drink younger than 16 with 25 per cent of Australian 12-17 year olds having drunk alcohol in the last month. 

It's up to adults to set clear boundaries and lead by example, and promoting "kid's cocktails" is not the best pathway.

"Exposure to "kid's cocktails" could potentially lead to an earlier exploration of alcohol when drinking cocktails is framed as an 'adult' activity. It could be very appealing to a young person wanting to act grown-up," she said.

"If you're promoting "kids' cocktails", it can make a young person excited to demonstrate how adult they are by consuming alcoholic "adult cocktails". 

"We all need to be role-modelling that we can have fun without alcohol, that we can say no to a drink, and that alcohol doesn't have to be present at every family barbecue, dinner, or other social event."