PARENTS are willing to buy alcohol for children as young as 14 even though they know it is illegal to do so, according to a new survey, but older brothers and sisters are most guilty of providing drinks to minors.
Research leader Sandra Jones said children were not only influencing their peers to drink, but were pressuring their parents and siblings to let them.
''Kids say to them, 'Everyone else's parents buy them alcohol, you're the only one who doesn't and I won't fit in if you don't','' Professor Jones, from the University of Wollongong, said.
''To say to parents, 'Just say no - your kids might hate you, have no friends and no one will come to their party but they'll thank you when they're 35' - isn't really convincing.''
More than 800 people from NSW were surveyed as part of her study of underage drinking, which was funded by the Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education and done in partnership with NSW police. It revealed a belief among adults that buying drinks for under-18s was normal and unlikely to result in penalties.
While nearly half of adults were likely to provide alcohol to 17-year-olds for a party in the home, almost one-fifth said they would also provide it to a 14-year-old in the same circumstances. The majority of minors said their parents were likely to provide alcohol at family events and supervised parties, while more than half said their parents would provide it for an unsupervised party.
''We need to change this idea that drinking underage is okay,'' Professor Jones said. ''Parents think because they may have drunk when they were kids, their kids will be okay doing so too. But young people now are drinking more and in much more harmful situations.''
Education focused on consequences such as getting into fights or drink-driving, she said, but not as much on short-term health effects.
Research has shown that the brain does not stop developing until someone reaches their early 20s and that alcohol can disrupt this critical period of development.
Advertising needed to target older siblings, she said, because they were most willing to buy alcohol for underage siblings. Most adults also said they knew buying alcohol for minors was illegal.
''There is a perception that the government, police and health bodies are trying to restrict people's ability to drink, that they're treating people like babies, it's a nanny state,'' Professor Jones said.
''But we need regulation and laws because the medicinal evidence is actually really clear that if you drink at that age, it does permanent harm.''
A researcher from the University of NSW National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, Matthew Sunderland, said that those young people who binged were also least likely to respond to single measures, such as increasing the price of wine.
His study of Saturday night drinking found the heaviest drinkers also consumed the cheapest alcohol, were not fussy about what they drank and drank at multiple locations.