At the dinner table, Erica Zidel and her husband often have wine together. On occasion, their 6-year-old son has had a taste too.
“I feel it's very important to set an example of responsible drinking for him -- that alcohol is something to be enjoyed in moderation,” says Zidel, who runs an online babysitting service in Boston. “We explain to him that it's a drink for grownups and, as he gets older, he can have a very small amount on special occasions.”
Although her son hates the taste of alcohol and never requests any, Zidel will set the table with three wine glasses and pour apple juice in his.
Public health analyst Christine Jackson and her colleagues read hundreds of comments online by parents who share similar beliefs as Zidel’s. People were certain that offering kids sips of booze at home would encourage responsible drinking behavior later in life. But despite their best intentions, these moms may be mistaken.
“It is possible that an early introduction to alcohol, even when it is limited to sips and even when it is meant to discourage child interest in alcohol, could backfire and lead to more drinking later on,” said Jackson, who is based at the research institute RTI International in North Carolina and worked with colleagues from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a study published in Monday’s issue of the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.
Forty percent of the 1,000 mothers surveyed in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee believed that forbidding alcohol would only spike their kids’ desire to have it.
At least one in five moms in the study said they believed that children who sip alcohol will be better at resisting peer pressure to drink and less likely to experiment with risky drinking in middle school.
“This finding indicates that many parents mistakenly expect that the way children drink at home, under parental supervision, will be replicated when children are with peers,” said Jackson. Recent studies, she points out, have shown that’s not the case—kids disregard the norms they see at home when they’re out partying with their peers.
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