Can my 12-year-old child have a sip of alcohol?

Father: “I recently went on an excursion in Budapest with my 12-year-old daughter, where a gruesome Hungarian liqueur was served at the end. My daughter asked if she could taste it, and I allowed it. She said, “Damn it, that’s gross.” Great, we had that again.

“I don’t believe in very strict bans. She will soon come into contact with alcohol. I myself drank from the age of 14; beer was normal where I grew up.

“I was a bit shocked when I later heard the reactions of other parents when I told them. They really didn’t think it was possible.

“Did I do that wisely? And can I also let her taste a sip of beer or wine, for example, if she wants to when we are dining with other families with minor children?

“At home she never sees us drinking, I think I pour a glass of wine at home once a month.”

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Clear message

Ingmar Franken: “A sip of alcohol is not harmful on a neurobiological level. It will have no effect on the brain. But on an educational level it is unwise. You thus send the message to a 12-year-old that alcohol is fine, ‘because it’s part of it’.

“We know from the scientific literature that children of parents who handle alcohol casually will have more problems with it later on. They exhibit more risky behaviour: they drink slightly more on average and engage in more binge drinking.

“What works preventively are clear rules at home. Start with the clear message: I don’t want you to drink until you’re eighteen. Make it clear that you don’t like it if your children drink something, but keep talking about it. It is better to be open about it together than to argue or punish.

“One in three parents gives their child a sip, and it is not the case that one in three children gets into trouble. But the chance is higher. So you have to ask yourself: why would you do it?”

Involve young people

Stijn Sieckelinck: “I think father’s attitude is just a bit too rowdy, but I also have certain questions about the ban on drinking until a young person is eighteen. Alcohol use also has socio-cultural sides: when a sixteen-year-old teenager full of hormones wants to declare love to a peer, a strong sip helps. Beer, wine, spirits are part of the grown-up world and so a ritual introduction in the form of a sip or a glass together may help, for example at a family party. As long as drinking alcohol is not strongly associated with reactionary conceptions of masculinity or femininity, such a rite can be formative. But don’t do this in front of other minors.

“12 years is really too young anyway, and I don’t find the reasons father gives convincing either. Children come into contact with many things later on: drugs, sexuality, you don’t have to orchestrate that as a parent, do you?

“Anyone who does not believe in very strict bans – that may be right – can also make it very clear in an empathetic way that some things are simply not good for children.”