A friend recently told me that her dad used to put a tiny bit of wine in her sippy cups to “help her sleep.” We both laughed, but I apparently wasn’t very good at masking my concerns. “Why do you look so uneasy?” she asked. I proceeded to tell her that my parents were very strict about alcohol and would never even think about offering me a sip before I turned 21. We then went on to discuss the effects of growing up around relaxed vs. strict attitudes on alcohol: a topic that is debated time and time again.

Is letting kids taste alcoholic drinks such as wine or beer harmful or harmless? Neither of my parents drank alcohol around my siblings and I growing up—but I still hold the latter opinion. I’ve always thought that placing strict bans on alcohol is taboo; that it has the very opposite effect on an individual and makes the idea of drinking more enticing. While this may very well be true, new research knocks my initial thoughts and says that being overly relaxed about alcohol can have negative effects on kids.

More specifically, this study “Early alcohol use with parental permission: Psychosocial characteristics and drinking in late adolescence” says that parents who allow their kids to occasionally taste their alcoholic drinks may be inadvertently contributing to an increased risk for alcohol use or similar issues for the kids in late adolescence. So, rather than promoting responsible drinking, this early exposure to alcohol might actually lead to unsafe drinking tendencies.

Craig Colder, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University at Buffalo and lead author of the study, explains these findings further: “Early sipping and tasting is predicting increased drinking behavior in young adulthood. Sipping and tasting alcohol in childhood with adult permission is associated with more frequent drinking and an additional drink per drinking episode. It’s not only how often they’re drinking and how much they’re drinking in late adolescence, but the negative consequences related to drinking increase as well, like being hungover, getting into trouble, arguing and fighting.”

Colder and his team—which included Kathleen Shyhalla, a UB research assistant, and Seth Frndak, a graduate student at the university—reached these findings after interviewing approximately 5,320 families over the course of seven years. Each year, they conducted these interviews with two demographically representative community samples of about 380 families each. Colder says the subjects were just average kids who weren’t raised problematically, but who were immersed in an environment that supported drinking.

“These are not alcoholic families, but families that have more laissez-faire attitudes about underage drinking. The kids are also interacting with peers that have pro-drinking attitudes,” Colder explained, summing it up to what he refers to as alcohol-specific socialization. “When we statistically control for these contexts, this early sipping and tasting behavior is still predictive of these long-term outcomes.”

University at Buffalo (2018, March 4). Letting Kids Taste Alcohol May Lead to Drinking Problems in Late Adolescence. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved March 4, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/kids-alcohol-problems-8589/

Colder, C. R., Shyhalla, K., & Frndak, S. E. (2018, January). Early alcohol use with parental permission: Psychosocial characteristics and drinking in late adolescence. Addictive Behaviors. Retrieved on March 5, 2018 from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306460317302848