Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Is drinking with your kids at home a good idea?

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Thursday marks the 30th anniversary of the raising of the national drinking age to 21
  • Most studies have found that even offering small amounts of alcohol to children can backfire
  • One study did find that when children drank with parents, they were less likely to binge drink
  • When kids see their parents drunk, they are more likely to get drunk, according to research

Editor's note: This story is part of a series on the 30th anniversary of the National Minimum Age Drinking Act, passed by Congress on July 17, 1984.

(CNN) -- I probably think about the dangers of drinking more than the average person because there is alcoholism in my family.

As a parent, I am slightly obsessed with figuring out what I can do to make sure my children, 6 and 8, don't have problems with alcohol when they get older.

So, on this the 30th anniversary of the national drinking age being raised to 21, I'm asking myself the following question: Am I better off never letting my girls drink around me, at home or at family celebrations, until they reach the legal drinking age or does it make drinking less taboo and alluring if I let them start drinking at home, maybe with sips of wine and beer, during their teenage years?

If you look at the scientific evidence, it seems more studies point to a negative consequence of parental offers of even a small amount of alcohol.

A recent report in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs highlighted two such studies: One in 2011 in Sweden of 13-year-olds found that when children were offered alcohol by a parent, it was associated with a higher likelihood of heavy episodic drinking in girls, but not in boys; and a 1997 study of fourth- and sixth-graders in the United States found that when parents offered children a small amount of alcohol, the children were more likely to initiate alcohol use on their own.

Alcohol and teens
CDC: Women, teen girls binge drink
Mariah's Challenge fights teen drinking

In addition, another study compared seventh-graders in the United States with Australia, where adult supervised drinking for teens is allowed. Some 36% of the Australian teens had problems with binge drinking compared with only 21% of American teens, according to the 2011 study.

READ: Should the U.S. lower its drinking age?

"I think the evidence would suggest to me you are not playing your best hand if you provide alcohol to your kids," said Dr. Ralph Hingson, director of the division of epidemiology and prevention research for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in an interview.

"It may be that nothing's going to happen, but it's like if you're driving a car too fast in a residential neighborhood that the likelihood of being in a car crash is increased because you are taking an unnecessary risk."

But, there's at least one study that shows that drinking with parents can lead to positive results.

The study, published in the 2004 Journal of Adolescent Heath and showcased in a 2008 Time magazine story, found that children who drank with their parents were about half as likely to say they had alcohol in the past month and about one third as likely to admit to binge drinking (having five or more drinks in a row) in the previous two weeks.

Stanton Peele is a psychologist, addiction expert and author of several books on addiction, including "Addiction Proof Your Child."

The New York City father of three said he allowed his children, now in their 20s and 30s, to have a few sips of alcohol during meals in their teenage years and then around 16 let them have a full glass of wine.

Why doing it 'like a girl' is great
Are you better off being a nerd?
How a mom runs home like the office

"The chances that children are going to go to college ... and not consume alcohol are infinitesimal," said Peele, who also provides online addiction treatment and support.

READ: Would you tell your kids you got high?

"And so the question every parent has to ask themselves (is) ... 'Who is going to teach them how to drink?' "

Brian Gresko of Brooklyn, New York, a Babble.com contributor, says he and his wife are already teaching their young son about drinking.

In their house, alcohol is part of the family culture, said Gresko, who says he and his wife always have a cocktail, glass of wine or beer while cooking dinner and during the meal.

"We don't hide this from our 5-year-old son. Felix knows the guys at our local wine store, and he sometimes asks me to make him 'mocktails' when we drink cocktails," said Gresko, editor of a recent anthology of 22 novelists writing about fatherhood called "When I First Held You."

"Alcohol is a part of life, and I would rather he begin to form a relationship with it under my supervision instead of in secret with his friends, where who knows what could happen."

Elena Sonnino, a wellness writer, social media strategist and founder of the site Live.Do.Grow., also wants her 9-year-old to feel comfortable enough to talk with her about anything, but she takes a different approach.

READ: 21 is science's limit when it comes to the drinking age

She recently scaled back from having a nightly glass of wine to having one just once a week for wellness reasons and doesn't believe she'll let her daughter have sips of alcohol until she can legally have them.

CNN\'s Kelly Wallace is struggling with whether to let her girls have small sips of alcohol at home when they get older.
CNN's Kelly Wallace is struggling with whether to let her girls have small sips of alcohol at home when they get older.

"We won't offer her tastes because we're trying to show her that drinking wine is a responsibility," said the northern Virginia mom. "You have a responsibility when you start drinking anything, wine or whatever it is, and you need to be able to make good decisions and until you're 18, 21, your brain isn't fully formed."

Melissa Moog, a mom of three and founder of Itsabelly Baby Planners, a new parent and baby safety consulting service, also won't be letting her kids enjoy sips of wine and beer.

"I think a legal drinking age was established for a very good reason," said Moog of Portland, Oregon. "If I allowed my daughter at 16 to try a sip, I would be nervous that she'd think subconsciously that I was OK with her drinking before the legal age limit because I let her take a sip of my drink."

While I admit I am still as confused as ever about what I will do when my girls get older, there are a few things I am pretty certain of that are backed by strong evidence.

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

I won't ever get drunk in front of my kids, with studies showing that children who see their parents drunk are more likely to get drunk themselves.

READ: What sways teens not to drink, drive? Stories, not stats

And I will talk to my girls about alcohol as they get older. That's the focus of the #TalkEarly online campaign by the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, encouraging parents to have conversations early so as children get older, the topic of drinking is not taboo.

Top 5 parenting mistakes

A big focus is also encouraging parents to watch what they say and do in social media, including making jokes about needing a glass of wine.

"Avoid transmitting the 'I need a drink' message after a long day or stressful situation, and talking about what it feels like to get drunk," said Micky Morrison, a mom of two and founder of BabyWeight TV.

Michelle Staruiala, a mom of three in Saskatchewan, who said her kids rarely see her have a drink, is proof good communication can lead to positive results.

She has always talked with her kids about everything, she said, and recently asked her 16-year-old son why he sometimes doesn't go out with his friends.

"He's like 'Mom, some of them are drinking' ... I don't feel comfortable being around those situations.' "

"He's really, really listened to our talks and he, to this day, never has had a drink in his life. So being 16, nowadays that's kind of a rare thing," she added with a laugh.

Do you think drinking with your kids is a good idea? Share your thoughts in the comments or tell Kelly Wallace on Twitter or CNN Living on Facebook.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
I happen to agree with Renee Zellweger that all the chatter about her face is "silly."
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2206 GMT (0606 HKT)
I have long thought millennials, who expect flexibility in the workplace, would be the group that would bring an end to the stigma that is too often associated with flex time -- the belief that wanting a flexible work arrangement means you aren't willing to work as hard. But now I'm thinking it's going to be men who will get us there.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1140 GMT (1940 HKT)
Say it with us: Kids today have it sooooo easy.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1829 GMT (0229 HKT)
An Atlanta judge reportedly reprimanded an immigration attorney for bringing her 4-week-old to court for a hearing -- a hearing she asked the judge to reschedule because she was on her six-week maternity leave.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2018 GMT (0418 HKT)
Monica Lewinsky tweeted for the first time. She called herself "patient zero" of cyber-bullying.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1943 GMT (0343 HKT)
Meet Shyanne Roberts, a 10-year-old competitive shooter with something to prove: "Kids and guns don't always mean bad things happen."
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1457 GMT (2257 HKT)
"Breaking Bad's" Walter White may have cleverly dodged authorities during his career as a drug kingpin, but his action figure hasn't dodged the wrath of a Florida mother.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1350 GMT (2150 HKT)
strawberry ghosts
We love Halloween season. Sweets. Sweaters. Sipping hot cider (maybe spiked). Halloween can certainly get you in the spirit, and nothing warms our hearts like these healthy Halloween treats that help you stay energized instead of stuck in a sugar coma.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1923 GMT (0323 HKT)
Does your baby cry during long flights, causing you to want to disappear from the glares of fellow passengers?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 0252 GMT (1052 HKT)
Ask any teen if they suffer from social media anxiety and they would probably tell you no. But the truth is getting "likes" and the fear of missing out are adding stress to teens' lives.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 1313 GMT (2113 HKT)
Many photographers have taken it upon themselves to document stillborn and terminal babies' precious moments after birth.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1946 GMT (0346 HKT)
As part of the insurance coverage offered to its female employees, Facebook is paying to freeze their eggs.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1815 GMT (0215 HKT)
Amal Alamuddin was well-known in many important circles long before she snagged the world's most eligible bachelor. But Amal Alamuddin is now Amal Clooney, according to her law firm's website.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Trends in young adult fiction have shifted from wizards to glittering vampires to bloodthirsty "Hunger Games" and now, to teens coping with illnesses and realistic issues.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0056 GMT (0856 HKT)
Before he died this year, 14-year-old Martin Romero wanted to do something for his community.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
A 12-year-old girl called Dick's Sporting Goods out on its lack of female athletes in the Basketball 2014 catalog.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1636 GMT (0036 HKT)
Before he was even born, Shane Michael Haley had already met the Philadelphia Phillies, been to the top of the Empire State Building and shared a cheesesteak with his parents.
October 10, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
I couldn't quite believe my eyes when I read the initial comments from Microsoft's CEO on how women who don't ask for raises will receive "good karma."
October 10, 2014 -- Updated 1402 GMT (2202 HKT)
A photo series "From the NICU to the Moon" imagines premature babies in future professions with a series of imaginative doodles.
October 10, 2014 -- Updated 1733 GMT (0133 HKT)
Jessica Dunne and her father Michael P. Dunne
"I don't think anyone is ready for grief. But when it hits you, it knocks you out cold," Jessica Dunne wrote after the sudden loss of her father.
October 9, 2014 -- Updated 1409 GMT (2209 HKT)
Most moms will say they long for a day when moms stop criticizing one another, but most of us are guilty of tearing each other down.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
When we think of terminal cancer patients, we don't imagine Brittany Maynard -- 29, vigorous, happy. But she will soon take a handful of pills that will end her life.
October 8, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
"Back in my day, we used to walk five miles uphill, carrying all our books in the blistering cold and the pouring rain..." Some schools have found a new way to making walking to school safer -- and more fun.
October 7, 2014 -- Updated 1402 GMT (2202 HKT)
The death of a New Jersey boy, the first health officials are directly linking to Enterovirus D68, has parents wondering whether school is the worst place to send kids susceptible to the virus.
October 7, 2014 -- Updated 1422 GMT (2222 HKT)
It's a heartbreaking time for three families, football teams and communities after three players died last week. Investigations are under way, but some parents are wondering, is the sport safe for children?
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 1726 GMT (0126 HKT)
Here's what some schools are doing to create welcoming environments for transgender and gender nonconforming children.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Nothing could prepare this mom-to-be for what she learned at her first ultrasound.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
A 15-year-old British schoolboy has struck a chord with his eloquent response to actress Emma Watson's United Nations speech encouraging men to join in the fight for gender equality.
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT