From The New York Times By Perri Klass, M.D.: Parents may think that giving children sips of wine at holidays promotes a healthy, festive attitude toward alcohol, but some studies show it correlates with problem drinking later.
I discovered a new category for myself as a parent when I read a study published in March in the journal Pediatrics called “Parents Who Supply Sips of Alcohol in Early Adolescence: A Prospective Study of Risk Factors.” I confess I bridled a bit at the idea that the investigators might mean me: A ceremonial drop of Champagne on New Year’s Eve? A token “sip” of wine at Passover? Doesn’t this sound a little, well, puritanical?
It turns out that there is a growing body of research, much of it in specialized journals on alcohol use, on parents’ providing small tastes of alcohol to relatively young children in the context of family events, and trying to tease out what it does or doesn’t mean in terms of children’s later relationship with alcohol. Mind you, the sipping children aren’t high school students; we’re reaching back earlier than that. And the research came about because it is so common for parents to offer those sips at home, before children have had other tastes of alcohol.
“The whole issue of sipping came as a surprise,” said Dr. Monika Wadolowski, an epidemiologist who is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of New South Wales Australia and the lead author on the study, which looked at 1,729 Australian seventh graders. She was drawn to the topic, she said, because some statistics were identifying high rates of early alcohol use in adolescents, but they weren’t distinguishing between the kids who had “sipped” and the kids who had had whole drinks.
Some researchers are trying to get at a child’s very first experience with drinking, “the earliest transition in the youngest population, specifically, from abstention into sipping or tasting alcohol among children,” according to a study published in 2014 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. And that can mean going back pretty early. Researchers looked at 452 children in Pennsylvania to see what factors might predict which ones would start tasting alcohol from ages 10 to 12. Sipping wasn’t associated with the kinds of behavior problems that have predicted problem drinking in other studies. Instead, it was connected to whether parents approved of the sipping and to children’s perceptions of those attitudes.
The lead author, John E. Donovan, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, recently wrote to me in an email that based on the cumulative research: “Child sipping is related to earlier initiation of drinking, which is a risk factor for a lot of other problem behaviors,” and related to binge drinking and drug use. His conclusion: “Parents should not be providing alcohol to their kids.”
Read more: Well Offering Kids a Taste of Alcohol