Early Exposure to Alcohol May Not Deter Abuse

Contrary to the common belief that exposing your child to alcohol earlier on in life deters abuse of the product, it actually isn’t proven. Parents often think if you let kids dabble it will eliminate heavy drinking and alcohol abuse down the road. Some parents believe sipping wine, having a beer or two, or dabbling in other “controlled” alcoholic beverages is harmless when done in their presence. They believe early exposure to alcohol and underage drinking with parents can help mitigate the glamour of it, making it normalized, thus them not abusing it later in life. They believe it will make their teens less likely to use alcohol as a form of rebellion. Also, parents feel they can model responsible drinking behavior. Experts in the addiction field say this is a treacherous approach. Therefore, it is important to prevent early exposure to alcohol.

Early Exposure to Alcohol is Not a Solution

A research team from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) sought to find out how many parents subscribe to the approach of early exposure to alcohol in a teen’s life. Researchers conducted telephone interviews with mothers and their children on the subject of children’s alcohol exposure. They were surprised to discover how many parents believe that early alcohol consumption prevents problem drinking. 1,050 mothers and their third-grade children were interviewed, and a large number felt that such an approach was a viable one to take with their children.

The results published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine highlight the following as well:

  • Roughly 20 percent of moms thought exposing children to alcohol early in life would help them in their teen years
  • Two-fifths of moms in the study believe that not allowing alcohol would make them want it more
  • Furthermore, one-third of third-grade kids admitted to drinking wine and/or beer

Researchers Find Parents’ Assumptions About Teenagers and Alcohol Exposure is Incorrect

Many parents believed their children would be more responsible. There is no evidence for this. Head researcher Christine Jackson says additional studies are needed. She also wants to understand where “…the relationship between early sipping and alcohol use in adolescence” began.

The earlier a child drinks alcohol, the greater the risk. In this study, the parents had kids who drank. Experts believe alcohol exposure is not a good thing. But don’t avoid the topic. Parents can have open and honest discussions about alcohol. But do not allow kids and teens to drink.

The findings illustrate a big gap between what parents believe their children will do under adult supervision and what children do without adult supervision. Lead researcher Christine Jackson explains the importance of making this distinction: “An early introduction to alcohol, even when it is limited to sips and even when it is meant to discourage child interest in alcohol, could backfire and lead to more drinking later on.”

Clearly, an emphasis on moderation over the inherent dangers of alcohol abuse is a problematic approach to take with teens. Unfortunately, teens lack the experiential filters needed to make positive decisions. Also, the teen brain is still developing. Indeed, the developing teen tends to lack impulse control and fails to recognize obvious dangers and risky situations.

In conclusion, why would a parent want to roll the dice? Given the data, it is best to delay exposure and protect your kids.

Image courtesy of Thomas Martensen for Unsplash.