Should you let your kids drink at home?

An article in the Wall Street Journal examines the debate over whether parents should let children drink alcohol at home. Not surprisingly, both parents and experts differ.

According to a 2009 survey, 86 percent of American youths have used alcohol by the age of 21. (This number actually seems a little low to me.)  The WSJ article reports that a recent government survey found that “almost 6% of 12- to 14-year-olds drank alcohol in the prior month, and 16% of those got it from a parent or guardian…”

“When kids under age 15 start drinking and drinking heavily, they are about six times more likely to end up with alcohol problems,” says a director of the agency that ran the survey. But a psychologist and addiction expert notes that, when it comes to that statistic, “There’s a giant difference between a kid who gets totally wasted on some purloined booze in the woods with his friends, and someone who has wine at dinner with their parents or as part of a religious ceremony.”

Exactly. A child who’s drinking heavily before 15 is obviously a child in trouble. Context and consumption levels are key when framing this issue. Another study the article mentions backs this up:

While teens who attended a party with alcohol supplied by a parent were twice as likely to binge drink or be regular drinkers, teens who drank with their parents were just one-third as likely to binge, or half as likely to drink regularly.

Does allowing a glass of wine or beer at home teach children it’s okay to abuse alcohol, or to break the law? Or does it reduce the taboo and show them a responsible way to view and handle alcohol? 

I lean towards the latter opinion, but I think it only works if alcohol is truly integrated into the culture of a family, and not simply used as a lesson or a way to be “cool” with your kids.

Millions of teens around the world grow up drinking wine as an accompaniment to meals in countries where there’s no minimum drinking age. Research is mixed on whether this creates problem drinkers, but anecdotal evidence — from people I know who’ve lived and traveled overseas — would seem to indicate that places like France and Italy do not produce the kind of alcohol abuse found in the U.S. and Great Britain.

Zoe Romanowsky


Zoe Romanowsky is writer, consultant, and coach. Her articles have appeared in "Catholic Digest," "Faith & Family," "National Catholic Register," "Our Sunday Visitor," "Urbanite," "Baltimore Eats," and Zo

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