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The Wine Ethicist: What’s Alright For The Kids?

2012 January 19
by Mike

Let’s start with full disclosure: I am working on a story about children and wine and am raising the subject here as part of my reporting. I won’t quote any of you by name, but I anticipate that whatever discussion we have will very likely provide some interesting material for my article.

So I have two children, and I also have wine on the table pretty much every night of the week. I’ve always assumed that exposing kids to wine encourages responsible drinking later in life, and I let my children dip their fingers in my glass periodically. How very French of me, I know. With regard to kids and wine, I’ve forever viewed the French as beacons of common sense; they don’t treat alcohol as taboo, and it was my impression that French teens and twentysomethings were far less prone to excessive drinking than American youths.

But that just ain’t so—not these days, anyway. NPR aired a story last month about the rising incidence of binge drinking among French teens and the growing doubts in France about whether early exposure really produces better outcomes. And, in fact, alcoholism has long been a major public health problem in France, which suggests that the French approach perhaps isn’t all that enlightened. As with so many issues like this, the academic literature on children and alcohol can point you in whichever direction you want to be pointed: some studies show that permitting kids a taste promotes intelligent behavior, and other studies indicate that it has the opposite effect.

Self-doubt seems to be a condition of modern parenthood, and while I haven’t caught my son or daughter taking any unsanctioned swigs, I am giving a lot of thought to whether or not I’m doing my kids a service by allowing them to experience wine. I would love to get your thoughts on this topic. If you have children, do you let them taste your wine, and at what age did they start? Those of you who don’t have kids should weigh in, too. Was alcohol off-limits when you were growing up or did your parents permit you an occasional sip, and in hindsight, do you think that they had the right idea? With so many Americans now making wine part of their daily lives, I think this is an issue that a lot of people are confronting, and I am eager to hear what you have to say about it.

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  9. Jonny M permalink
    December 2, 2014

    We grew up where all alcohol was totally taboo and evil. Two of my brothers therefore became binge drinkers at parties as soon as they could get out of the house, the others of us and my sisters never touched the stuff. Now, I have an occasional beer when I feel a cough or fever coming on, and I rarely get sicker. I’m making sure my children don’t feel that alcohol is taboo, and even give them some when they are getting sick.

  10. Wendell permalink
    March 22, 2012

    You seem to have created a false choice for yourself. You don’t want to make wine taboo? That’s laughable. Just because you don’t give your kids wine does not mean you have shunted it in to the category of bongs and bathhouses. Have you ever considered that had you not given your kids wine they may never drink it, and that’s ok too. Lots of people don’t drink and also do not consider it taboo. This is not the matter/antimatter debate. Both things can coexist. My parents never gave me wine as a child, and I did not run out on a 3 day bender when I turned 21. I enjoy wine with dinner and have no intention of giving my kids wine. Oh and by the way it’s illegal in every state, not just a few.

  11. Jim Ruxin permalink
    January 27, 2012

    There has been extensive research on binge drinking among college students in the US. The finding generally agreed upon is that children who grow up in homes where alcohol is consumed in moderation with meals, binge far less than those in whose homes alcohol was not consumed or rarely consumed.

    More work needs to be done to reconcile the various studies with each other. I suspect as opne cause of European binging, the use of alcohol in American media and music to glamorize, as well as economic downturns and the rise of an unhappy and increasingly impoverished underclass. Just speculation, but there is always more than meets the eye at first glance.

  12. January 23, 2012

    great material — hope you’ll condense and print it!
    my parents had pre-dinner spirits cocktails; wine unknown in memphis in the 30s. they allowed me to taste when i was ready and i have had cocktails for about 65 years.
    in 1965 wine institute brought me to california with 3 boys: 6, 4 and 3; so they grew up with wine. i believe in the early european introductory model as insurance against abuse.
    2 of my sons developed excellent palates and have gone into the wine business — one was a liquor store wine buyer before he was of legal age!
    obviously wine/alcohol isn’t for everyone but for most people, much of the time, it is a boon.

  13. Jeremy Seysses permalink
    January 23, 2012

    Thank you for opening this interesting discussion, Mike.

    As someone living in France, I would concur with others that binge drinking in France, while indeed on the rise, does not seem to be especially concerned with wine. Spirit and beer companies have been marketing to the younger crowd in a major way, providing sponsorship, trinkets, etc. Those companies are clever. They don’t chase after unattainable objectives.

    But going onto the topic of what to do with kids, growing up in a wine producing family, my parents always communicated that wine was there for the taste, not the alcohol and its effects. Also, that as a professional, one had to stay aware of the risk presented by alcohol. They did let us taste, very sparingly, a bit of everything. Their approach may not have worked with all children, but my brothers and I arrived in boarding school and later university with an attitude towards alcohol that was healthier than most, seeing no value in excess and certainly did not treat it as something that would represent an attitude of rebellion against adults. Taking away the “forbidden fruit” quality of alcohol, as others have mentionned, is no small achievement.

  14. Frugal Glug permalink
    January 21, 2012

    Fascinating topic.

    I grew into a very strict household that abhorred the very thought of alcohol in the home. I can say as far as to my experience: alcohol was a taboo in my life for many years. When I first delved into wine and beers I proceeded with caution due to my upbringing. However once that settling stage passed I, in all likelihood, took to alcohol with a boorish, childish and naive mass consumption. This did not last too long having made an initiative to find temperance in life. There was a mystic allure to alcohol that first drew me in.

    Would this allure have been there when I hit the “age mark” if spirits were abound me growing up?

    Today, I may or may not know a certain him or her and her or him that invites a nearly underage drinker to a wine tasting party every week. I’m a pretty open fellow, but even I recognize this is as turbulent ground at best. However during these tastings there is never an inclination to excessive drinking. Rarely do you see these folks become red in the face. They practice composed, studious discussions of the wines tasted. By showing some class and sophistication towards drinking, as a ritual worthy of respect, they impart innocuous, subtle lessons; this I have seen with the changing attitudes and wisening of this theoretical adolescent. I have no doubt that embryonic lessons of alcohol consumption and self control and temperance will translate to young adults.

  15. Niall Munnelly permalink
    January 21, 2012

    (and Family Wine Night doesn’t sponsor ball games and concerts. You get the idea)

  16. Niall Munnelly permalink
    January 21, 2012

    I’d like to offer a different spin on the decline of wine culture as the ascent of cheap, strong, sugary booze, weird malt beverages and the all-consuming marketing associated with them. You can teach your kids to have a healthy attitude toward “alcohol,” as all those other studies show. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to having a healthy attitude toward to Smirnoff Ice, Tennant’s Extra Whatever, and Four Loko. It’s unrealistic to expect Family Wine Night to do so, IMO. They don’t have commercials and tee shirts for Fanily Wine Night.

  17. @TuomasMW permalink
    January 21, 2012

    Great topic!

    I’m giving my almost 4 year old daughter to take a sip from my glass on a table if she wants. Few times I have even offered her to try. She usually does not want to, but if we are talking about the wine, and tasting it, I see she wants to be a part of the social staff around and asks to try, which I find positive. She’s also interested in cooking, and I let her participate all the ways 3 year old can. She can make an omelette almost by herself already.

    When I was a child, alcohol was not a tabu, neither a everyday part of my parents life. I was not offered wine, because my parents did not really drink it at the time. When I grew up, I was not judged if I were drinking with my friends, I think my parents considered that part of the life of a 16-17 year old. I grew up pretty ok and have quite neutral relationship with alcohol. I drink it, but very rarely get drunk, and if so, never in front of my children but just with friends.

    Why I’m giving my daughter to try wine? I would like to parent her to grow up understanding that there is more in food and drinks than just giving you energy. I want to make her understand and enjoy the social aspects around gastronomy. In Finland, we have alcohol problems and also lots of problems with people eating way too unhealthy for them to live balanced and healthy life. I believe, that if you would grew up being interested how the food is made, discover different tastes and enjoy the social stuff around gastronomy, you would also better understand what is good for you and what is not. Time will tell if it works, but I believe that the opposite way, making alcohol a tabu or food just something that will fill your stomach will eventually bring worst results.

  18. January 20, 2012

    Robin and several others have noted that there are legal considerations at play in some states, and that’s an important point, too. Quite apart from health factors, allowing a minor to take a sip of wine could be a crime. I know that parents have been arrested for allowing teenage drinking; I wonder if anyone has ever gotten into legal trouble for permitting a child to take a sip of wine at the dinner table. I hope not, but I suspect it has happened.

  19. Brian permalink
    January 20, 2012

    A great topic of conversation and one we have regularly with the partners of our winery. Each couple sees this very very differently.

    One couple sees this very ‘black and white’ “The law states it’s 21 yoa… PERIOD” However, I was raised in a family that was much looser about the issue. We drank a little as teens but never abused and had a very trusting agreement with our folks that we could ALWAYS call if we had a beer. No matter the time they would be more proud that we called for a ride than they would be upset that we had a beer or two. “Just don’t get into a car!” was the mantra. It worked for us and it was a great trusting relationship I never wanted to abuse or disappoint.

    With regard to my daughters now…. We let them taste it a little here or there. They are 12 and 10 and are interested in the winery. It’s been a good experience and they don’t thrive on the “FORBIDDEN FRUIT” piece. In fact, in the spring we took them to France. When we visited Chateau Margeaux the woman asked us “Are you allowing the girls to taste while they are here?” When we said yes her very genuine response was “Oh Good! I think its so important for the kids to start developing their palate at an early age” We laughed like hell.

    I think it’s important to not emphasize the “forbidden fruit” but teach that it’s something to enjoy and experience with different meals, etc….

    Let em taste it…. and teach em along the way.

  20. Robin C permalink
    January 20, 2012

    In New Mexico, it’s a felony for any person to knowingly provide alcohol to minors. I like to keep that uppermost in my mind when making a decision about letting children try wine.
    When I was a child, my parents let me try anything they ate or drank. I tried beer and have always hated it, I tried a cigarette and have always hated cigarettes. It’s a good thing I didn’t try wine. But each person is different. Impossible to predict how a child might react.

  21. January 20, 2012

    Mike, an afterthought:

    One key thing to consider is societal tolerance or thresholds for what is and is not alcoholism.
    (Think: Foucault’s Grid of Interpretation).
    What may fall in the rubric of clinical alcoholism in the USA – based on massive occasional binges – may be seen as “just something young people sometimes do” in another country.
    The general framework of a society’s morals and tolerance of behavior are a big factor here. Whether it is expected that men will occasionally slap their women around “out of passion” or that people will “overindulge” as a “rite of youth” determines if a particular behavior is a *problem* in a given country.

  22. Begriff permalink
    January 20, 2012

    Some perspective on Jose’s point, which I hope Mike will examine seriously in his article:

    In the state of Oklahoma it is a felony to knowingly supply alcohol to a person under 21. Up to 5 yrs in jail for a first offense; minimum fine of $2500. Moreover, there is no exception for home consumption under parental supervision, at least for wine.

    (The state’s criminal code is unclear, at least to me, about whether a parental supervision exception may exist for low-point beer.)

  23. Jack Bulkin permalink
    January 20, 2012

    I have wine just about every night and my seven year old son has zero interest. He sometimes does pour grape juice to imitate me when I swirl the stem.

  24. January 20, 2012

    Thanks, everyone; this is a terrific discussion, and greatly appreciated. It is clearly a somewhat trickier issue than meets the eye. I think many of us who are wine enthusiasts simply assume that early exposure is the wisest approach, and I still believe that to be true. But I’m not as certain as I was a few years ago–again, not because of anything that has happened with my children, but mostly because of what is happening in France. A friend of mine, a fellow wine writer with long experience of Italy, emailed this morning to point out that Italy does not seem to have any problem with alcoholism or binge drinking, which perhaps suggests that the decline of France’s wine culture is indeed the reason for the rise of binge drinking there.

    Several of you have mentioned family history as a factor, which is a really important point. If alcoholism runs in the family, that has to be a major consideration in whether or not to give your children an early introduction to wine.

    Greg Randle, I’m fascinated that you and your wife have taken such a different approach with your younger ones. From what you are saying, it sounds as if it was simply about health-consciousness, and you make a valid point–red wine may or may not have health benefits for adults, but it is an alcoholic beverage, and that is a major consideration when you are talking about young children.

  25. January 20, 2012

    The French have this conceptualization of wine as “wine” and spirits as “alcohol”, a construct I have encountered in other parts of Europe as well. Insofar as words frame our thinking, maybe this is why there are these differing attitudes between the US and Europe.

    But the times are-a-changing. Our teens (and pre-teens) get high on cough syrup and European teens binge on beer and cheap wine for a strong buzz.

    My 14-year old son tastes (and spits) the wine that we make together. When we open a bottle of something we’ve made together, I let him have a couple of tablespoons as a taste with food.

    That does not stop him from making cracks about raiding my liquor cabinet.

    More than this setting, I am more concerned about taking my kids to tasting rooms. My first two are old enough not to whine and be disruptive and the youngest is just little and cute enough to draw only positive attention to himself.

    However, more than being a disturbance to other tasters, I just don’t want my kids around the inevitable loud and obnoxious adults – the woo-hoo chicks who fall out of limmos reeking of cheap perfume and insisting on speaking loudly as if they were standing next to a Marshall stack at a Metallica concert, or the more subdued but still thoroughly buzzed adults who stumble from the tasting room and get behind the wheel of their car.

  26. January 20, 2012

    I grew up in an Italian American household. Wine was always part of dinner. It was never consumed at any other time. I was given watered wine from a very early age, perhaps 6 or so, at dinner on Sundays.

    This did not stop me from binge drinking beer and distilled liquor when I was in college. But after a couple of years of that, I returned to my roots: wine with dinner and rarely at any other time.

    My nephew (7 years old) has been offered watered wine with dinner. He doesn’t like it. But he understands that wine is consumed with food at the table. What more can an adult do?

  27. Kurt Burris permalink
    January 20, 2012

    My now 14 year old son when he was around 6 stated at dinner that he knew the six stages of wine. I might add we make wine at home as well as me working in the industry. He got the steps in production in the correct order, but the final stage was “and then you and Mom drink it with dinner”. He now runs the press and supervises the bottling crew for our home juice. And has never once even asked for a taste. I think the daily moderate exposure has made him aware of responsible consumption and the lack of glamour in an everyday beverage. Whether this translates to his responsible consumption, I can only hope.

  28. January 20, 2012

    Mike, I’ve read in the media and heard from French friends that the increase of binge drinking in France is being blamed on the rising popularity of spirits and that it’s not wine the teenagers are drinking. I believe that introducing children to wine in a responsible way–a sip here and there–and reminding them that they will not have more than a sip here and there until they are legally able to helps build their awareness. That said, I still worry about whether or not a sip here and there will lead to a desire for it that will lead to overdrinking. Is there any way to know for sure?

  29. Jon permalink
    January 20, 2012

    Jose – laws vary from state to state. In NJ, there is no state law prohibiting a minor from consuming alcohol on private property, it is only illegal to sell to a minor. From the NJ State ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) Website: “A person must be 21 years of age or older to legally purchase or consume any alcoholic beverage on a licensed premises. There is absolutely no exception to this. (N.J.S.A. 9:178-1) However, persons under the age of 21 can legally drink in connection with a religious ceremony or at home under parental supervision.”

  30. January 20, 2012

    Good point, Jose…

    I will say that I live in Austin and that Texas law still allows a parent/guardian to serve their child alcohol. Even at restaurants (e.g., server hands the drink to the parent and the parent hands the drink to the minor)! Very few parents do this (especially at a restaurant), but it IS legal to do so. Of course, social ramifications of parents boozing it up with their kids, should that info hit the streets, might not great for the PTA scene. :)

  31. Max Perkins permalink
    January 20, 2012

    I have two children. My son is 10 and my daughter is 9. I’ve been in the industry for 24 years, as both a distributor and a supplier. I grew up in a household where little drinking was done, although I did see my parents drink occasionally and it wasn’t considered taboo.

    Alcoholism has skipped a couple generations in my family, but is a part of our family history. I’ve warned my kids of the dangers of enjoying alcohol too much from the time they could talk. As parents, my wife and I publicly frown on some members of the family who take a laissez faire attitude towards their high school age daughters drinking. We have already warned our kids that it won’t happen in our household. I’ve allowed my kids to smell a lot of wine and in the past year, have allowed them to dip their fingers in a glass a few times as well. They really don’t seem to have much interest and do it mainly to humor their old man, the wine nerd.

    We try to consistently point out that moderation is key and drinking before 21 is currently illegal. Sorry kids, we don’t make the laws. I think they’d rather have a soda anyway.

  32. José permalink
    January 20, 2012


    Interesting article. Although I do not have children I would be in favor of exposing them to wine.

    There are some valid points mentioned above regarding alcohol being a drug, alcohol binging, alcoholism, etc., but nobody has touched the legal ramifications any parent could get into if someone reports to DFYS that you are serving alcohol to a minor. In this day and age of political correctness and frivolous lawsuits, it is something to seriously consider before serving wine to your kids.

  33. Greg Randle permalink
    January 20, 2012

    I have 3 boys. When the oldest (now 17) was younger, my wife and I would allow him to sip anything, of he was interested… As long as he was with us. He was rarely interested. When he was 10, he had a Donnhoff Riesling that he kind of liked. But, that was it. He opens wine bottles for us and loves sabering Champagne bottles. But other than that, he’s not interested. When the younger brothers (almost 7 & 5) were interested, we’d let them smell and/or have a sip.

    We’ve since changed our tune. Now (for the past year and a half or so) we typically say, “that’s for grownups.” Not sure what happened along the way, but even though I work with alcohol for a living, there is no question it is not good for you. It is definitely not good for a growing child. It is a legal drug. Which is fine. But, not for my kids.

  34. Bob R. permalink
    January 20, 2012

    When I was growing up, my father was principally a beer drinker and my mother didn’t drink. I was allowed to try beer at home, but thought it was disgusting, so I didn’t drink. Then I started chugging beer in college; I still didn’t like it, though. I eventually came to appreciate wine. We have no children, so I can’t comment on that aspect. But I’ve always believed that the European way — exposing kids to wine at an early age — makes for responsible drinking later on. Now some studies seem to call that conclusion into doubt, so I’m unsure. But I still have my doubts that making wine taboo for children is beneficial.

  35. Cassandra permalink
    January 20, 2012

    We have a lot of alcoholism in our family, so I talked to my kids quite a bit about correct and incorrect uses of alcohol when they were growing up. Part of that was because of our family history, part of it was because of my general philosophy about distinguishing between things you can never do (smoke cigarettes) and things that are not OK for children, but are OK for adults (responsible use of alcohol, sex). Beginning in late high school, I allowed my kids to have a small glass of wine with dinner if they weren’t leaving the house afterward. They’re adults now, and one drinks wine most days with dinner, the other rarely drinks at all. We all know that alcoholism could be out there for us, so we pay attention to our consumption and also to whether alcohol remains a want rather than a need.

  36. Jon permalink
    January 20, 2012


    I am SO happy you posted this topic. As a father of one (almost 2 year old) and another one on the way, this is on my mind almost every night as I enjoy my glass with dinner. My parents are not drinkers at all. I never saw them consume alcohol and they always told me they didn’t enjoy it (there were probably a few sips of Manischewitz at Passover by all of us.) Interestingly, I didn’t even try my first social drink until I was 18 and almost finished with my first year of college and my first beer came sometime the next year. My attitude was always, “I see how much trouble some of my friends get into because of drinking, and I don’t want any part of it.” I was around it at parties, etc., and never once looked down on someone else for drinking, I simply abstained. After that, my college years were normal: some regular light drinking and a few instances of binge drinking. My point? I don’t think it matters either way. My parents never told me NOT to drink but taught me about being responsible. I am one who chose to abstain for all of those years. I think as long as we teach our kids what being responsible means and to respect themselves, they will make choices based on that. I am all for teaching my kids about wine and letting them try it. I would like to think deliberate tasting will be more likely to make chugging a “waste of time… and wine.” Thanks for the fantastic blog!

  37. Andrew permalink
    January 20, 2012

    Pretty similar to many of the posts here, we have wine on the table most nights (ok, every night). We have a 10-year old and a 6-year old, and we also offer them a sip of whatever we are drinking. Sometimes they take us up on it, sometimes they do not. But, as others have mentioned, it is also something they associate with family, social experiences, meals, etc., rather than pounding Budweiser at a football match. We also tend to give them a sip when we light ocassionally light the candles for Shabbat, and rarely does a holiday take place in a winemaking region that does not involve a vineyard visit or two, so it is really something that is woven into their lives.

    I point out though that those of us posting responses may not be the most representative group either. We are following Mike’s blog because we already share a penchant for wine and probably share relatively similar philosophies on this and related subjects.

  38. Chris Robinson permalink
    January 20, 2012

    I think you will find binge drinking in France is based on beer and spirits consumption, not wine. Wine consumption has been declining no doubt because consumption at home and over family meals is no longer so common. Young people often feeling disenfranchised from society just want to get ripped together. It has little to do with taste and is all about self esteem, group behaviour, etc. .

    In my view early exposure to wine “and talking about it”, makes children actually think about tastes and aromas and leads to sensible drinking. Why? – once you have experienced the wide profile of sensory expereince that wine provides, frequent consumption of drinks like beer and spirits and mixes becomes basically somewhat boring and unsatisfactory.

    My daughters, all four of them, ages 16 to 32, all enjoy drinking wine and share comments about it with me, initially seeing if they are understanding what they are drinking and now feeling confident enough to say what they like and don’t like. They have been exposed to wine since 4-5 years with their own miniature wine glasses and watered down wine or something sweet.

    We now all like a beer occasionally but just for what it was intended for- a refreshing beverage most often after exercise or heavy labour or on a hot day. To sit around drinking 6-10 glasses of beer seems pretty pointless to someone who feels confident enough to select a glass of wine or two or three, often all different, exciting and worth talking about.

  39. January 19, 2012

    I have a 5 year-old and a 3 year-old and am maybe at the extreme end of this debate as we can’t drink a beer or wine at the table without them demanding their sip. In fact, the five year-old’s first taste of wine was a dab on the lips of the Champagne we opened when we brought her home from the hospital at two days old (the 3 year-old was relatively neglected and waited until she was one before she started demanding her share).

    As they are growing up in a winemaking household, I guess there was no doubt that they would try wine sooner rather than later. I would think that it is impossible to stop experimentation with binge drinking later in life (I certainly did it, and hey, most of the time it was fun), but hopefully we can refine their tastes a bit. I’m hoping I can turn them into wine and beer snobs – how much trouble can they get into if they keep turning their noses up at anything worth less than $50 a bottle? (I may have to increase my wine budget to acheive this plan though).

    I worked a vintage in St Emilion way back in 1997 and I was surprised at the amount of binge drinking (with truly awful beer and wine too) that the 20-ish year-old winemaking students all around me seemed to enjoy. I had also been led to expect more responsible drinking habits than I inherited from my Anglo-Saxon background. But I assume they grew out of it too.

  40. wineshlub permalink
    January 19, 2012

    Mike, you ask all the right questions – except, perhaps, the question about binge drinking in France. As others have pointed out, the rise in binge drinking in France may well be correlated with the overall change in French culture – especially the change in the French government’s attitude towards alcohol – and have little to do with the way French parents raise their kids.

    But, on to the main point. I’m the parent of two adult kids, and I’ll rehash a response I made to a similar question on a wine blog post a while back. Wine was usually on the dinner table when my kids were growing up and, perhaps more importantly, there was a dinner table each night. I did let them taste, and starting at a relatively young age. The way I look at it, you have two choices. You can either teach your children how to enjoy alcohol, or you can leave the job to their Middle School and High School classmates. Furthermore, what matters more than what you tell your kids is the example you set. If they see you drinking responsibly, enjoying wine as a food to be consumed with food, that goes a long way.

    As they got older, I educated them about what they should look for in wine, and stressed the importance of never getting behind the wheel of a car after drinking, or riding with anyone else who has. While I was open and relaxed about wine at the dinner table, I was very strict in other contexts. Other people’s kids were never allowed to drink at our house. Parties with alcohol were out of the question. Perhaps both of these things sound obvious, but to a frightening number of parents they are not. By the time they got to high school I suspected (correctly as it turns out) that they were drinking in social situations. I didn’t like that, and if they had ever gotten caught there would have been hell to pay, but you can only control what you can control. The boundaries were clear. I do believe that both of my kids have grown into responsible drinkers. A great moment of satisfaction for me was the time my adult daughter told me that she didn’t really enjoy drinking without food.

    That being said, this is only my story and every family is different. Neither my family nor my wife’s family has a history of alcoholism. If we did, the way I raised my kids would have probably been the behavior of an alcoholic in denial. The bottom line is that you have to find your own way, stick to your values, and trust your judgment. But I believe that running away from the subject and hiding it from your kids is a huge mistake in the long run.

  41. January 19, 2012

    Lee, you raise the same point that Beau made, and it is an excellent one–it could well be that the decline of France’s wine culture is fueling, or at least contributing, to the rising incidence of binge drinking among French youths. They are not learning responsible drinking at home in the same way that their parents and grandparents did. And your experience in Germany obviously squares with what I’ve always assumed–that early exposure promotes responsible drinking.

    Frank, enjoy is the operative word; exposing children to the good things–great art, great music, great literature, great food and wine–is a wonderful gift that we can give our children.

  42. Frank permalink
    January 19, 2012

    Thanks, Mike. Maybe the point I wanted to make most strongly was to teach them to enjoy life’s good things. This may be another topic, and maybe not for this forum. But I submit that both prohibitionists and abusers have lost the ability to enjoy the object of their fixations.

  43. January 19, 2012

    Thanks, all, for the comments.

    WineFD, my son is 10 and my daughter is seven. My son seems genuinely curious about wine, my daughter not so much. But as I said, I have always assumed that early exposure was the best prevention–that treating alcohol as taboo would very likely have the opposite effect of what was intended.

    Frank, trust in your own parenting skills is a great point. But we are bombarded with so much information these days–and so much conflicting information–that constant second-guessing seems to be the norm. And I agree completely about showing a good example, as in don’t ever let the kids see you inebriated.

    Greg, I think you are right. When I was in high school, my parents permitted us to drink in the house because they wanted to be able to supervise the drinking, which I think was a prudent approach. Drinking was going to happen somewhere; better under their roof than someplace that might involve driving, etc.

    Beau, thanks for stopping by. You make some great points. Yes, wine consumption has declined dramatically in France over the last half-century, and it could be that lack of exposure is fueling the binge drinking among French youths. And, like you, I grew up around wine (my father wasn’t in the business; he was just an enthusiast, and wine was on the table every night), but I can’t say that I didn’t go a little wild when I got to college anyway. That said, I was always very cautious about driving–I never got behind the wheel if I was even just a little buzzed, and that’s still the case today (in fact, I rarely get even mildly buzzed now).

  44. Lee Newby permalink
    January 19, 2012

    As a preteen I spent 4 years in then West Germany, there was wine on the table at most meals, at Sunday dinners we were given 10-15ml in a glass for toasts and to drink, how daring, but with a DM in hand I could buy a litre of beer from a corner store no questions asked they assumed it was for my Dad. I drink wine most days and beer now and then, myself a 2 siblings became responsible drinkers from our European experience with table wine, and drank allot of great Mosel plus learned to tell Mosel from Rhine wine even out of the bottle. I instilled the same value in my children who are not binge drinkers.

    The new binge drinking in France may be because of the general decline in wine consumption in Europe, maybe the kids don’t see wine as a foodstuff and more as a mind altering substance.

  45. January 19, 2012

    I think the decision to allow your child or children to consume any amount of alcohol before they’re of legal drinking age is something that cannot be defined by generalities. Perhaps there is a correlation with the rising binge drinking rate in France and the decline of wine consumption?

    For example, my childhood was full of wine, because my dad was in the industry as a broker/distributor/importer and therefore had bottles of wine open literally every night. My younger brother and I would ask for (and receive) little pours (1 or 2 oz) at dinner pretty much anytime. However, there was an understanding that when non-wine-industry guests were over, we would not ask. Obviously, this was to avoid offending anyone’s sensibilities. When a winemaker or someone else in the business was supping with the family, we could have wine should we desire it.
    Did that consumption prevent me from binge drinking at parties in high school and college? No, it didn’t, however, I never binge-drank using wine, because wine held (and holds) a sacred spot in my imbibing consciousness. Do I binge drink now? No, I rarely ever get more than a mild buzz. My point is that I don’t think my childhood experiences with wine taught me different drinking behavior, but it did create a passion for wine.

  46. Greg permalink
    January 19, 2012

    I think it’s never a bad thing to encourage your children to explore and what better than to explore with proper adult supervision?

    Children will always want to demystify the unknown and I echo the respondents before me.

  47. Frank permalink
    January 19, 2012

    My dad gave us kids a sip of his beer at Sunday dinner.We all turned out fine, enjoy a glass, and don’t over-indulge. My kids didn’t get a taste when growing up because my wife was opposed to doing it. My daughter has never liked alcohol (she gave back her apple juice at 18 months because it had started to ferment). My son didn’t drink as far as I know because he was always in training. Now, however, some of our best times together are at a tasting or over a meal with good wine.

    I have a friend who is 40 yrs in recovery. His son and nephew are alcoholics; identical twin brother and nieces aren’t. Alcoholism is a multifactorial disease; part genetic, part environmental, maybe part in between (epigenetics).

    So I say give the kids a bit of wine if you want, or don’t, show a good example, teach them to enjoy life’s good things, and trust your parenting skills. That’s all you can do in the end anyhow.

  48. wineFD permalink
    January 19, 2012

    I have two young sons (4 and 7) I also have wine almost everynight at dinner, I allow a little sip if they are interested. I first ask them what they think it smells like and we discuss the smells they guess, they take a sip (and always think the taste is “gross”) Anyway I think by exposing them to it as well as discussing it will take the taboo out of being bad and wanting to rebel later in life. Thats my two cents.

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