By Jim Gogek
I’ve never been clear where the idea comes from that if you let your young child sip alcohol that he or she will learn how to be more responsible about booze later in life. This falls under the same category that if you go outside with wet hair you’ll catch a cold or if you go swimming less than an hour after eating you’ll get cramps. Yet, a lot of people think that letting kids sip alcohol will avoid a forbidden-fruit response, so they’ll learn how to drink properly — like European youth.
A study by Christine Jackson, Ph.D., of RTI International, published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, polled a thousand moms and their 3rd-grade children and found that one in five moms believe that allowing their kids to sip alcohol makes them less likely to experiment with alcohol as teens, and 40 percent think that if they prohibit their children from drinking, it will trigger a forbidden-fruit desire to drink even more. Not surprisingly, the study shows that children whose parents let them sip alcohol are more likely to initiate alcohol use at a younger age, which in turn is linked to greater alcohol problems.
One false belief at play here is that if kids learn to drink responsibly at home, they will also drink responsibly with their friends. It’s amazing to me how many parents entirely forget what it’s like to be a teen-ager. Teens’ behavior among their friends is very different from teens’ behavior at home around their parents. That’s part of being a teen.
Now what about European youth? Do they really drink more responsibly than US youth because their parents allow them to drink from a young age in a family setting? The fact is that underage drinking problems are worse in Europe than in the United States — and in some Euro countries much worse.
Data comparing drinking among Euro vs. US kids has been followed for years using the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs and the United States Monitoring the Future Survey. The latest examination of this data by Bettina Friese and Joel Grube of the Prevention Research Center looked at 2007 figures and found that most European countries have higher intoxication rates among young people and a greater percentage of young people being intoxicated before age 13 compared to the United States. Three times more kids in the UK and Denmark — and nearly two times as many in Austria, Finland, Ireland and Germany — report getting drunk before age 13, compared to US kids.
So, contrary to the belief of many people, parents letting kids sip alcohol may lead to worse underage drinking problems. And Europe – where kids are allegedly exposed to alcohol at younger ages – has worse underage drinking problems than the United States. Two more ATOD myths exploded by real evidence.