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Friday, September 28, 2012

Don’t give young children alcohol

It may seem obvious that children under age ten should not be given alcohol. However, many parents believe that allowing children to taste alcohol when the adults around them are imbibing will actually inoculate them from future alcohol abuse. Some version of this belief was held by up to 40% of parents in a recent study conducted by Christine Jackson and her colleagues from RTI International the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Over a thousand mother and 3rd grade child pairs were recruited and interviewed about alcohol use in the home. Women were asked whether they allowed their own children to sip alcohol and whether they considered this to be an acceptable practice for all children. They were also asked whether there should be an age limit for the practice.

Many of the mothers chose to indulge children who requested a sip of alcohol. One of the top reasons given was the hope that by nonchalantly allowing children to taste alcohol, the drinks would lose their forbidden fruit appeal. Mothers also cited the expectation that, upon finding they disliked the taste, their children would choose to forgo alcohol in the future. Finally, some mothers expressed the belief that by allowing their children to sip drinks in the home, they were teaching their children how to be responsible drinkers.

Unfortunately, the drinking behavior of teens, when associating with other kids, bears little resemblance to the drinking norms practiced in the home. In fact, previous studies have shown that one of the factors most often associated with alcohol use by age fourteen is having tasted alcohol before age ten. In other words, if parents allow their children to sip alcohol in an effort to stave off underage usage, that intention is likely to backfire.

Christine Jackson, Susan Ennett, Denise Dickinson, & Michael Bowling (2012). Letting Children Sip Understanding Why Parents Allow Alcohol Use by Elementary School–aged Children Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. DOI: 10.1001/archpediatrics.2012.1198. 

Donovan JE, & Molina BS (2011). Childhood risk factors for early-onset drinking. Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs, 72 (5), 741-51 PMID: 21906502.

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