How bad is it to give your toddler a sip of beer?

Ian wonders: Are we so by-the-book that we lose sight of the big picture?

By Ian Mendes
How bad is it to give your toddler a sip of beer?

The ‘Mother of the Year’ is a fictitious award, but Valerie Topete took herself out of the running last week.

The Arizona mother of three was arrested for allegedly putting beer in her two-year-old’s sippy cup at a restaurant. Her defense was that her youngest child kept reaching for the pitcher of beer on the table and she wanted to teach him a lesson about how bad it actually tasted.

A classic case of reverse psychology gone wrong.

Topete made a terrible mistake by reportedly filling up her toddler’s sippy cup full of beer. Even those of us who stopped taking chemistry after Grade 11 know that 4oz of beer could have a significant effect on a toddler. She is now facing one count of child abuse for her actions.

Now it would be easy for us to label this woman a moron and simply wait for the next parenting mistake to go viral on the Internet. It seems a story like this makes its way across our computer screens at least once every week.

But many parents across North America have been known to give their toddler a sip of beer occasionally to accomplish the same thing that Topete was trying to do — teaching their kids that alcohol actually tastes terrible to young taste buds.  

So this week, I wanted to tackle a question that came to my mind immediately after I read this story: How bad is it to give your toddler a sip of beer?

I would like to preface this piece by saying that I have never given my children a sip of alcohol. But a big reason why our kids have never tasted alcohol is that they’ve never seemed the least bit curious. When they ask if they can have a sip of our drink at a restaurant, we usually tell them, “These are spicy adult drinks — you wouldn’t like it. Remember the time we accidentally gave you the Tabasco ketchup? Yeah, that’s what it tastes like.”

And when they are rebuffed, the kids simply turn their attention back to the colouring pages at Red Lobster. (And when you eat with children at a chain restaurant, alcohol is pretty much mandatory for parents).

However, if they pressed the issue and kept asking to try a sip of beer, I’m not sure what I would do. I think my children — at the ages of 8 and 4 respectively — are too young to even have a sip of alcohol. So I would probably end up saying no — at least in a public place like a restaurant.  

But to be brutally honest with you, I can’t guarantee that’s what I would do in that situation if it happened at home. And so I don’t judge the parents who do try the approach of letting their kids have a sip of beer because that would be hypocritical on my part. And by criticizing these parents, I would be suggesting that my own parents were incompetent when they raised us.

When I was growing up, my parents gave me the odd sip of beer. And as a child of the 1980s, I know I wasn’t alone. Granted, it was a completely different era back then. You could smoke on an airplane, so giving a child a sip of beer during the final episode of M*A*S*H wasn’t questioned in the least bit. Safety wasn’t always on the top of everyone’s minds at the time.

But now that our generation has become parents, we have swung completely the other way. And we love nothing more than pointing out the failings of previous generations of parents.

“I can’t believe my parents let me ride in the car without a seat belt. What were they thinking?”

“My parents let me walk home alone from school when I was in Grade 1. How crazy is that?”

“My dad let me have a sip of his beer one time. How could he have done that?”

We like to think that because we don’t allow our children to do any of these things, that we are the first generation of truly enlightened parents.

But in reality, we aren’t better parents than our own mothers and fathers — we just have more information. We bury our noses in parenting books looking for all the answers from the experts, while ignoring the example given to us by the parents who raised us.

Yes, they let us drive without seat belts, but did we ever really feel unsafe? They let us walk home from school, but did anything actually ever happen to us? And we had the odd sip of beer and I’m pretty sure we all turned out just fine.

Sometimes, this current generation of parents is so by-the-book that we lose sight of the big picture. Parenting isn’t black-and-white as a lot of those books would have you believe. There are a lot of shades of grey and, like it or not, letting your child have one sip of beer probably falls in that murky area somewhere in the middle.  

Of course, the context of giving a child a sip of beer needs to be taken into consideration. If a bunch of guys are hanging out and they think it would be funny to see a toddler take a sip of beer, that’s not acceptable in my book. But if a responsible parent sees no harm in letting a child take one sip of beer, then I don’t think we should be so quick to judge.  

As parents, we need to relax a little bit and look at the big picture of raising children. Giving your son or daughter one sip of beer once a year shouldn’t amount to a case of child abuse. The bigger issue on this continent isn’t the odd sip of beer — it’s what we’re giving our kids to drink on a regular basis.

Filling their sippy cup with Pepsi and buying them super-sized soft drinks at the mall on a regular basis?

Now that’s child abuse in my opinion.

What are your thoughts?

This article was originally published on Jul 12, 2012

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