Do you let your kids taste alcohol?

Are sips here and there a bad idea or no big deal? Two parents discuss whether or not you should let your child taste your booze.

Photo: Tara Galuska
Photo: Tara Galuska

“Yes”
Allan Britnell, Dad of two

Let’s be honest: Prohibition never works.

I grew up in a home where the only alcohol came from guests who brought a bottle of wine with them. Booze was something of a forbidden fruit. And, sure enough, as soon as I could get my hands on some, I did—often to excess and sometimes with dangerous or disgusting results. My wife, too, grew up in an almost alcohol-free environment. Yet, as adults, we both enjoy having the odd drink (or three).

When we had kids, we knew we wouldn’t stop drinking or try to hide it. It’s something we do, and it’s a part of the culture they’re growing up in.

So rather than making it a taboo subject or telling them flat out that they can’t drink, we’d like to teach them the personal and societal ramifications of consuming alcohol. And although we haven’t had any formal conversations about alcohol yet, we have, when our seven- and 10-year-old daughters have asked, let them take sips of our drinks. Their reaction is usually “Gross!” Though while on holiday in France last summer, our youngest tried some white wine, proclaimed it “Delicious!” and asked if she could have more. (We said no.)

Don’t get me wrong: I won’t be pouring them pints any time soon. But as they get older, those sips will probably get a bit bigger. I want to be the one who introduces them to the positive and negative effects of alcohol and helps them understand the importance of moderation, rather than leaving them to learn the way I did—by hanging out with my buddies in the woods and behind school portables. Instead of letting my kids leave the nest and blindly navigate situations where alcohol is present, I’d rather have ongoing conversations about it so they can hopefully make more informed decisions.

“Just say no” was a great catchphrase for Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug campaign in the 1980s, but as far as I’m concerned, in this case, “no” is simply not enough of an answer.

Cheers!

“No”
Jowita Bydlowska, Mom of one

My six-year-old came home just bombed the other day. He swayed, rolled his eyes and announced in a giggly voice, “I’m sooo drunk.” He wasn’t actually intoxicated, obviously. He was pretending to behave like a “drunk,” which I’m assuming is something he learned in the schoolyard. He’s never seen a drunk person, at least not at home.

I think about this issue a lot because I’m an alcoholic. I drank as a young woman and then quit, but relapsed when my son was an infant, before getting sober when he turned one. For those reasons, I’m wary of alcohol and totally against kids trying booze—even just a sip. But despite my best efforts, my son sampled beer recently. His father always orders beer or wine with dinner when we go out, and our little dude stole a taste when we weren’t paying attention. His face twisted, and he gagged, and we laughed at him. But not for a second did I believe he had just turned himself into a teetotaller.

I don’t buy into the forbidden fruit theory, where you let kiddos go at the bad stuff in the hopes it will work like aversion therapy—a practice where a person or animal is exposed to a certain stimuli while receiving simultaneous discomfort. As a child, I tasted my grandmother’s coffee. It was disgusting; I swore I’d never drink it. And yet, for most of my adult life, I worshipped at the altar of Bialetti and drank enough espressos every day to fuel a small train.

The belief that allowing kids to taste alcohol early in life will have zero influence on whether and how much they will drink in the future is just that—a belief. Not science. Recent studies show that tasting alcohol at a young age might be related to liking drinking later in life, and that even a tiny taste of alcohol triggers dopamine—a neurotransmitter that affects the brain’s pleasure and reward centres. Your kid might not get a buzz, but her brain just went on a mini-roller-coaster ride, and it was lots of fun. It doesn’t mean you’ve got her hooked, but why risk it?

A version of this article appeared in our January 2016 issue with the headline “Do you let your kids taste your wine or beer?” p. 88.

Read more:
How bad is it to give your toddler a sip of beer?>
Mommy needs her wine: The message this sends to kids>
Oops! I made alcohol seem cool to my kid>

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