Should you allow your child ‘just a sip’ of alcohol?

kids tasting alcohol

What’s the harm in giving your child a sip of wine or a taste of beer once in a while? A study of 561 children provides a surprising answer!

Children who taste alcohol

Children who get a taste of their parents’ wine now and then may be more likely than their peers to start drinking by high school age, according to a new report.

The findings are based on 561 middle school students who were surveyed periodically over three years. At the beginning of sixth grade (around age 11), almost 30 percent of the students said they had sipped some alcohol. In most cases, their parents provided it – often at a party or other special occasion.

Researchers found that, of the 561 students in the long-term study, those who had “sipped” alcohol by sixth grade were five times more likely than their peers to down a full drink by the time they were in high school. And they were four times more likely to have binged or been drunk.

Are early sips of alcohol to blame?

“We’re not trying to say whether it’s ‘OK’ or ‘not OK’ for parents to allow this,” said lead researcher Kristina Jackson, Ph.D., of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

Still, she noted that some parents believe in the ‘European model’- the idea that introducing kids to alcohol early, at home, will teach them about responsible drinking and lessen the ‘taboo’ appeal of alcohol.

“Our study provides evidence to the contrary,” Jackson said.

Are we sending children mixed messages about alcohol?

Of course, there are many factors that influence underage drinking, Jackson noted. Her team tried to account for as many of those factors as they could – including the parents’ drinking habits and any history of alcoholism, as well as the childrens’s disposition (such as whether they tended to be impulsive and risk-taking in general).

Even then, Jackson said, there was still a connection between early sipping and risky drinking by high school. According to Jackson, it’s possible that those little tastes of alcohol send young kids a ‘mixed message’.

“At that age, some kids may have difficulty understanding the difference between a sip of wine and having a full beer,” she explained.

Should you worry?

That said, she stressed that parents shouldn’t be alarmed if they’ve already let their child have a taste of wine.

“We’re not saying your child is doomed,” Jackson said. But, she added, the findings do highlight the importance of giving kids “clear, consistent messages” about drinking and making sure they can’t get hold of any alcohol kept in the house.

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