“It’s safe because it’s just a sip.”
“It’s safe, because I’ll be watching the whole time.”
“It’s safe because the alternative is that my child will be drinking somewhere else.”
Many parents have used these and similar statements to justify their decisions to permit their underage children to consume small amounts of alcohol in their presence. In many cases, the parents surely believed that what they were doing was in their children’s best interest, or was at the very least not exposing their sons or daughters to greater potential harm.
A growing body of research indicates that these parents may be sadly mistaken.
According to three recently published studies, many parents who allow or encourage their children to sip alcohol are basing their decisions on a flawed premise, and may be increasing the likelihood that their sons and daughters will abuse alcohol as an adult.
A Flawed Premise
The February 2016 edition of the journal Pediatrics featured an Australian study that looked into why parents provide alcohol to children.
The researchers who conducted this study found that many parents who allowed or encouraged their children to sample alcohol at home did so for two reasons:
- They believed that their children were already associating with peers who engaged in substance abuse.
- They thought that permitting their children to drink limited amounts of alcohol at home would protect the children from presumed alcohol-related peer pressure.
However, the researchers discovered that many parents were misjudging the substance abuse-related risks that their children were facing. Even worse, it appears that the parents’ misguided attempts to protect their children may be having the opposite impact.
“Parents may be supplying sips of alcohol in response to believing their child will be exposed to unsupervised alcohol use with their peers,” the Australian researchers wrote in the conclusion to their study. “However, they may be wrong in their belief, and may be prematurely introducing their children to a behavior that may have marked risks.”
Encouraging Unhealthy Behavior
In the September 2014 edition of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, a study of 452 children between the ages of 8 and 12 in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County revealed that 94 of these individuals (or about 20.7 percent of the subject population) had tasted alcohol.
The researchers in the Allegheny County study determined that the majority of the young people who consumed alcohol were not disobeying their parents and did not demonstrate evidence of predisposition for problem behaviors. Instead, the factor that appeared to most influence whether or not a child consumed alcohol was parental approval.
Increasing the Risk
The problem of parents granting approval to sip alcohol would be demonstrated in a study of substance abuse levels among high school freshman who had sipped alcohol prior to sixth grade, which was published in the March 2015 edition of The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. The researchers in this study analyzed data that had been collected on 561 students, about one-third of which had sipped alcohol by the time they reached sixth grade.
Most of the subjects reported that their earliest experiences with alcohol occurred at home in the presence of their parents or another adult. The results, as the researchers reported, showed a strong correlation between early sips of alcohol and later alcohol abuse:
“Youth who sipped alcohol by sixth grade had significantly greater odds of consuming a full drink, getting drunk, and drinking heavily by ninth grade than nonsippers. These associations held even when we controlled for temperamental, behavioral, and environmental factors that contribute to proneness for problem behavior, which suggests that sipping is not simply a marker of underlying risk.”
Though the authors of these studies all emphasized that additional research needs to be conducted on the causes and results of parent-approved alcohol experimentation by children, the evidence that has been collected thus far paints a far-from-promising picture:
- Many parents are allowing or encouraging their children to sample alcohol based on a flawed premise and a misguided understanding of potential effects.
- Children who consume alcohol are most likely to have done so because their parents approved or even encouraged the behavior.
- Children who sip alcohol, even under the supervision of their parents, are at increased risk for alcohol abuse.
To summarize: A preponderance of evidence strongly suggests that, even in limited quantities, even under strict parental supervision, even when it is “just a sip,” alcohol consumption among children and adolescents is an ill-advised behavior that may undermine their continued wellbeing.
About Pocono Mountain Recovery Center
Located on 10 serene acres in northwestern Pennsylvania, Pocono Mountain Recovery Center provides residential treatment, outpatient care, sober living environments, and a range of additional services to men and women who have been struggling with substance abuse and addiction. PMRC employs a holistic person-centered treatment approach that incorporates the principles of the 12-step recovery model and a host of dynamic therapeutic activities. We design a comprehensive treatment plan that is personalized according to the specific needs and goals of each person who chooses to heal with us. Treatment at PMRC is provided by experienced and compassionate professionals who are experts in the field of addiction treatment, and who are dedicated to helping individuals make the lifestyle changes that will empower them to experience long-term recovery and successfully pursue a healthier and more productive future, free from the constraints of chemical dependency