ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Over dinner recently, Anna Peele recalls one of the first times she drank alcohol. "I was like 14 or 15," Peele says. "I ordered a beer and they served me."
She had just finished her freshman year of high school and was traveling in Greece with family friends. "We would just have wine with dinner," Peele says. "In Greece it's so not a big deal."
Anna Peele's parents allowed her to drink at family functions and social events when she was in high school.
While that experience would cause some American parents to worry, Peele's parents weren't upset.
In fact, starting in middle school, her parents allowed her and her siblings to have an occasional sip of beer or wine. By the time she was in high school, Peele was drinking beer and wine regularly at family functions and social events. But it was always in moderation, Peele says. She says her parents' attitude toward alcohol made it seem less mysterious. "It wasn't some forbidden fruit," Peele says. "I didn't have to go out to a field with my friends and have 18 beers."
Experts say binge drinking continues to be a growing problem across the country. According to a recent report from the U.S. surgeon general, there are nearly 11 million underage drinkers in the United States. Nearly 7.2 million are considered binge drinkers, meaning they drank more than five drinks in one sitting.
In this age of "just say no," some people believe it is time for Americans to reconsider how they teach kids about alcohol. Peele's father is at the top of the list.
"We taught them to drink in a civilized fashion, like a civilized human being," says Stanton Peele, psychologist and author of "Addiction-Proof Your Child."
He says many of the programs set up to stop alcohol abuse contribute to the teen binge-drinking crisis. Any program that tells kids flatly not to drink creates temptation, he says. "Preparing your child to drink at home lessens the likelihood that they are going to binge drink," he says. "Not sharing alcohol with your child is a risk factor for binge drinking."
Peele says other cultures have figured it out. He points to Italy, Greece and Israel, where children are given small amounts of wine at religious celebrations or watered-down alcohol on special occasions.
But many other experts say the psychologist is off base. "That's ridiculous," says Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation. "By allowing teens to drink," Fay says, "you are giving permission to your children to do harmful things."
In the spring of 2007, the U.S. surgeon general's office issued its first "Call to Action" to stop underage drinking. "This is not something that is a rite of passage," says acting Surgeon General Kenneth Moritsugu. "It has an impact, short term and long term."
"When I went to medical school," Moritsugu says, "the science at that time told us that our brains had finished developing at 2 or 2 and a half. Over the past few decades ... science shows our brains continue to develop well into our mid-20s".
Fay also says Stanton Peele doesn't take into account other consequences of teen drinking, such as unsafe sex and drunken driving. "You don't have to be addicted to be harmed or die because of drugs and alcohol."
But the psychologist contends that kids are going to drink no matter what and that it is critical for parents to set the example. "I think the key to preventing all kinds of addiction is to make sure that your child values life, values himself and has purpose in life," he says. "That's the single most important thing."
Now 19, Anna Peele is a sophomore at New York University. She wants to be an actress. She does drink with her friends, but she says that it's always in moderation and that she is well aware of her responsibilities. "Your parents expect you to do your work and get the most out of your education. ... They're not paying for us to drink." E-mail to a friend
Jennifer Pifer is a senior producer with CNN Medical News. Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen contributed to this report.
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