You're pouring wine for a holiday dinner when your 9-year-old asks for a sip. Whether you give her one is a judgment call that only you can make, but do so wisely. Some experts see one swallow as a healthy way to introduce alcohol. "Children are less likely to experience problems if alcohol is demystified and not presented as a big deal," says David Hanson, Ph.D., professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Potsdam.
Others counter that permitting a taste is dangerous. "It won't end the forbidden-fruit phenomenon," says Lonnie Carton, Ph.D., a member of Anheuser-Busch's Family Talk About Drinking advisory panel. Your child may feel that even though some of the mystery's been taken out of alcohol, the idea of secretly experimenting with peers still sounds like fun. Plus, if you've given her a sip, she may reason that it's not necessary to obey underage drinking laws.
Your guiding factor in this decision should be your child's temperament. Is she mature enough to understand that a taste at home doesn't mean she can drink outside of your supervision? Does she understand that although it's illegal, you're giving it to her to prove that it's neither a magic potion nor poison? If you decide to allow a sample, keep these guidelines in mind:
- Don't offer alcohol if your child hasn't asked to try it. If you allow it, give no more than a swallow. Children's bodies can't safely consume much alcohol. Stress that it's for special occasions, and don't pour some for her every time you have a drink.
- Take the opportunity to talk about appropriate behavior around alcohol. For instance, point out that you don't indulge to act silly and you never drive after drinking.
- Never overdo it in front of your kids, glamorize drinking, or make light of drunkenness. More than half of American adults drink, and the majority do so responsibly. "If you use alcohol in moderation," says Hanson, "the chances are overwhelming that through your example, your children will as well."