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When I was growing up as part of a big, beautiful, extended Latino family, there was something that would happen at parties and special occasions that always bugged me. Adults would offer—even, at times, encourage—little kids to have a sip of whatever alcohol was being ingested and then kind of laugh at the reaction the kid had. I remember thinking, "Why are they offering us a sip of their drink? Don't they know kids aren't supposed to drink? And didn't they offer us a sip at the last party? Sheesh!"
It bugged me so much that I, being eight years older than my brother, complained about it when adults, including my mother, would let my hermanito sip on cerveza. And no, I wasn't over-reacting or being overprotective like all the so-called "responsible" adults in my family thought. I was genuinely worried about my brother and some of my primos. These kids thought it was fun and very adult to sip booze, so they'd sneak as many sips as they could manage.
There was even one time when my brother got one sip too many and it was noticeable. I was so upset. Everyone else just laughed at me for being such a stick in the mud and told me that if anything, letting him try alcohol as a kid would somehow make him a more responsible drinker later in life. What the what?! That made no sense to me as a child and it makes no sense to me now as an adult, either.
This whole idea that letting children try alcohol as a way to sort of vaccinate them against future abuse is totally bogus.
I know this practice of letting a child sip alcohol isn't specific to the Latino community, but it does seem to be pretty common practice among Latinos. Now that I'm an adult I'm going to go ahead and say it: I think it's wrong to let small children sip alcohol. And according to new research from the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, letting your kids sip alcohol before the sixth grade can even do harm because it significantly increases their chances of drinking heavily in high school. The study says "youth who sipped alcohol by sixth grade had significantly greater odds of consuming a full drink, getting drunk, and drinking heavily by ninth grade than nonsippers."
This whole idea that letting children try alcohol as a way to sort of vaccinate them against future abuse is totally bogus. I'm not a scientist or a researcher, so I'm not asking you to believe me or go with my gut, but the study found that "early sipping is associated with elevated odds of risky behaviors at high school entry [and] dispute the idea of sipping as a protective factor. Offering even just a sip of alcohol may undermine messages about the unacceptability of alcohol consumption for youth."
So you see, if you want to give your children a healthy respect for alcohol, maybe letting them sip on it before the sixth grade isn't such a good idea. Will a sip here and there as a kid turn them into an alcoholic or binge drinker? Probably not, but it does send mixed signals—and kids don't need mixed signals.