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Letting Kids Drink Some Wine at Home: The Debate

If you haven't seen it already, I heartily encourage you check out an excellent article and blog post by Eric Asimov over the last couple of days about letting kids drink wine at home.

As you might expect, this is a pretty heated topic in our moralistic American society, with people expressing strong feelings about whether or not it is OK to let kids have a little wine at home with dinner. Eric's blog post has received well over 300 comments already and I'm sure the discussion will continue.

Like on many issues, we Americans seem all to quick to paint a black and white picture when it comes to answering this question: ether it's OK, or it's not. Eric does an excellent job exploring the spectrum of gray between those two points of view, though he and his wife still haven't figured out yet just how to approach this with their teenage sons.

Those who know me well won't be surprised to find that I don't think there is a specific answer to this question. It depends. It depends on so many things that it's almost silly to suggest that there is a general answer that can be made independent of any one family's specific situation.

So all I can do is talk about how I will make the decision when my first child starts noticing that Dad spends a lot of time, energy, and attention on that brightly colored liquid in his glass.

I will start giving my kid(s) extremely watered down wine when they get old enough to express an interest in what Ruth and I are drinking at the table. As they get older, if they're interested in learning about the differences between wines, I will give them sips of the stuff, and let them taste with me if they are willing to spit.

And finally when they are old enough to be interested in having a glass with dinner, but are still under 21, I will let them have a glass if I think they are responsible enough to:

- Not think alcohol is anything special
- Want to drink wine for its flavors rather than its effects
- Understand what alcohol does to their judgment
- Safely make decisions about where, when, and how much they drink when not at home

Studies (cited in Eric's article) may suggest that there may be a correlation between families who allow a little alcohol consumption in the controlled environment of the home and a reduction in likelihood for binge drinking or alcoholism. There's not clearly enough clinical evidence yet to say for sure. But I do firmly believe that throughout history we have been shown definitive proof that outlawing anything that humans enjoy putting in their bodies is never a solution for moderating its use.

I'd rather my kids think of wine as an everyday part of a meal, than think of it as forbidden fruit.

Read the full article and blog entry.

Comments (103)

barbara wrote:
03.29.08 at 8:47 PM

..but be prepared for your children to possibly be influenced by their peers at some point. However in my experience they will come back to your example of drinking after some experimentation.

Alfonso wrote:
03.30.08 at 2:26 PM

Good point Barbara made...I had it happen with my son...Now he is a Sangiovese (with a Mescal chaser) kind of guy...

Erwin Dink wrote:
03.30.08 at 8:01 PM

As someone who has two grown children I have to say this is a non-issue for me and I am astounded at the amount of comments posted to Asmiov's article. Children that are raised in a reasonably sane and healthy environment will make reasonable choices and find their own preferences for what to imbibe as adults regardless of their parents predilictions. The last sentence of your post pretty much nails it -- and it's pretty simple. If a parent drinks then the kid is likely going to be curious about what they drink and why. If a parent doesn't drink, the kid is still likely to be curious about why simply due to the fact that alcohol is so prevalent in our culture. The issue isn't really wine (or any other substance) -- it's parenting with common sense and the goal of teaching our children to use good judgement in all aspects of their lives.

Morton Leslie wrote:
03.31.08 at 10:28 AM

My parents were teetotalers and I learned to drink with my friends usually in a car parked somewhere. I learned to control my drinking by making mistakes and surviving. I think I drank to be cool and to shed inhibitions. So, my plan was similar to Alder's; introduce my son to alcohol so that it was no big deal when peer pressures hit. And, of course, living as we did amidst a vineyard and winery, he would develop his palate and learn winemaking at an early age.

But my son didn't cooperate. He always declined the offer of wine at the dinner table. We didn't push him, he was happy with milk. He showed little interest in wine, even the 25 cases of Rutherford Cab he made with a friend when he was about 15 or the pipe of port I made for his 21st birthday. He preferred music. But he did confide in us when he began drinking socially with friends and we always had discussions about what they did and about responsibilities. That did not stop him from overdoing it. This year as a freshman in college he learned about vodka, like I did, the hard way. Again, we talked about it. During this Spring break he cruised through here with four friends when we were out of town emptying the outside refrigerator's stock of beer and leaving his camera home from which I downloaded "incriminating" evidence of the party. He's basically doing what I did, perhaps a bit more responsibly.

So, I guess my experience is the same as Erwin's. I just hope we continue a dialogue with him and that he develops a healthy relationship with alcohol.

03.31.08 at 12:18 PM

I agree entirely, if you let them drink some wine at home under your control they will approach it with a different attitude, they will learn to respect it and enjoy responsibly. I grow up in a similar environment and never had any problem at all and in fact, I think that, if we look at the history in countries like Italy, Spain, France where every family was making its own wine and therefore, children grow up seeing it, binge drinking or wine/alcohol related problems did not exist.

Frances wrote:
03.31.08 at 12:19 PM

As a home wine making family with a small, backyard vineyard in Sonoma County, our kids are constantly exposed to the immediate world of wine. With three boys under the age of seventeen, we've made every effort to drink responsibly as parents and wine makers and our kids have not been inclined to taste anything more than an occasional drop during the annual wine making process. We've taught each one to pour a great wine at family dinners, and in doing so have hopefully eclipsed much of the mystery of a puritanical attitude toward wine in this country. As European immigrants we enjoy a small glass of wine with dinner on week nights. This is absolutely not a big deal and I doubt I could pay my boys to drink a whole glass of wine at this point. In fact, I think our wine making heritage may have even had an effect of reverse psychology on our sixteen year old who considers it all rather boring!

winenegress wrote:
04.01.08 at 7:48 PM

I read the Asimov article and thought my own maturing experience. My parents let us taste alcohol when we were underaged, and I did binge and drive the porcelain bus a tiny bit in college (Riunite Lambrusco, anyone?) I settled down as I matured and wasn't tempted to overindulge as I got older. However, I have a pair of friends who are recovering alcoholics who come from a long line of alcoholics. Their adolescent son knows his lineage and has been gently warned of the likelihood of his heredity catching up with him.He has sneaked liquor(the parents cook with the stuff). They are justifiably worried. The point of this tale is that I am not sure there is a one-size-fits all model to follow.

Douglas wrote:
04.03.08 at 2:58 AM

If I ever have children, maybe I will ration the vino. After all, if my child gets a taste for wine and then by some quirk ends up marinated in the wine trade, he/she will have to deal with a lifetime living on Poverty Street and Penury Way... The U.K. trade is notoriously under-paying! Douglas

Anonymous wrote:
04.22.10 at 2:51 PM

People make too big a deal of this whole thing. In moderation, it can't hurt. If you drink to get drunk, at ANY AGE, there'll be damage.

Corey wrote:
10.23.10 at 9:30 PM

This discussion is further convoluted by using subjective terms such as "taste" and "small sips". As a child (starting at age 8), I was allowed a shot-glass of wine--which increased to a half glass around the age of 11 or 12. Red wine was consumed at dinner, usually three times a week. I grew to respect alcohol and became a reponsible consumer. Today, wine is a hobby which I look forward to share with my son, if he do desires to learn.

Daniel wrote:
04.23.12 at 1:09 PM

I think that if it is controlled at home and then introduced later on it will be easier for them to control interests/cravings/ ,perform proper actions while drinking it, and will let them enjoy the taste rather then drinking a bottle and partying just for the fun of it.

Wayne Ward wrote:
02.17.13 at 11:58 AM

Although I appreciate that people have expressed their personal feelings about young children drinking wine (alcohol), its suggested there is another side as well. The child's welfare, safety and health. Not all parents, or others, enjoy seeing a child drunk out of their skull dancing, cohorting in a child's way, or just plain 'out of control'. Hmm-m-m, how do we treat an adult who acts this way? Then again, not sure a parent who let's a child drink from the adult's glass would be a good judge in this matter. I say this as a wine drinker, broad minded in matters that matter, and I say this without having imbibed wine today. At 80 years of age, I can honestly say I've done some stupid, uncaring things in my life to simply justify my own behavior and that of others 'culturally'. I have never, to my recollection and matter of record, done anything to harm or put my children or yours at risk. No apologies. I encourage you to endeavor to say the same at 80 years of age.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.