Pro-Sipping, or No Sipping?

October 1st, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

Will introducing kids to alcohol at an early age prevent binge drinking later on?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

For kids, alcohol is the forbidden fruit – so does it stand to reason that making it less taboo would also make it less appealing? According to the so-called “pro-sipping” movement, in which parents give their kids small sips of alcohol, a little taste here and there will prevent kids from becoming binge-drinkers when they are older.

A new study from public health analyst Christine Jackson of RTI International and colleagues from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill surveyed 1,000 mothers and their third-grade children in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, and found that an unexpectedly high number of parents believe exposing kids to beer and wine at a young age will prevent them from being irresponsible drinkers down the line.

In fact, 40 percent of the mothers surveyed believed that forbidding alcohol would only make kids more rebellious. One-third of the third graders in the study had already tried beer, wine or even hard liquor. At least one in five mothers said they believed that children who sip alcohol will be better at resisting peer pressure to drink.

Despite their best intentions, points out Corey Binns in a Today show article, the moms may be mistaken. Jackson told Binns that the early introduction to alcohol could “backfire,” leading to more drinking later on. And contrary to the belief that it’s helpful to give kids a drink under mom and dad’s watchful eye, “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,” Jackson says.

According to the Los Angeles Times, existing studies already associate alcohol permissiveness at a young age as a risk factor for problem drinking during adolescence. Ralph Hingson, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research, told Binns that the safest thing for parents to do is actually “try and delay exposure to alcohol for as long as possible.”

Still, most agree that kids can be prepared for peer pressure and the lure of alcohol by talking with them about how they’ll deal with it. The Partnership for a Drug Free America advocates starting an open conversation, setting limits, and being honest about your own drinking history. Consider signing our Parent-Teen Driving Contract with your teen and, for more information on responsible teen driving, take a look at Liberty Mutual’s partnership with SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions).

What are your thoughts on the pro-sipping movement? For those in favor, how young is too young?