My oldest son is turning sixteen soon and I had a question about my logic regarding alcohol consumption at a young age.

To offer some context, my parents were very liberal with me growing up. They offered me alcoholic beverages on occasion starting when I was sixteen (maybe once a month at a party or large family dinner), and I would sometimes accept and sometimes decline - I had a sense of responsibility and decision-making. Throughout college I felt like these experiences helped me, over my peers, learn to not abuse alcohol. My parents were complicit with me drinking throughout college under the logic of "we trust you to not mess up."

At the same time, I also think I was more responsible than most kids my age back then. So far my son hasn't shown any signs of irresponsibility, but I understand that he's not exactly the same as I was as a kid.

My concerns are that offering him alcohol might teach him that my personal views are above the law (we live in the US, where the drinking age is 21). In addition, even if I trust him to be responsible, there is always the chance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time (especially in college). Clearly none of these things happened to me, but my concerns are worrying and I find myself with conflicting opinions: I feel like I should offer my son the same experiences my parents offered me (doubly so because I think they were beneficial), but for some reason actually being a parent is different from theorizing about it.

I talked this over with my wife and she, not having drank until she turned 21, seems really apathetic about the situation. I think she thinks that either way our son will be responsible, and left the decision up to me since I have concerns.

So, should I occasionally give my son alcohol?

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    I'm missing one aspect: what's your son's take on this?
    – Stephie
    Mar 18, 2016 at 8:33
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    @MakorDal US law about drinking age actually varies state to state -- while the minimum age to purchase alcohol (at a store or restaurant) is 21 everywhere, "only a few states (such as Pennsylvania, for example) prohibit minors and young adults from consuming alcohol in private settings" (via Wikipedia). It's worth researching local/state laws to find out whether the law would actually be ignored.
    – Acire
    Mar 18, 2016 at 10:37
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    16? I was emptying the last few drops of my parents' wine glasses a lot younger than that.
    – TRiG
    Mar 19, 2016 at 20:18
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    @Erica In Wisconsin at least, even in public places (restaurants, bars, etc.) persons under 21 can be served alcohol if their guardian is present and grants permission.
    – Waxen
    Mar 21, 2016 at 21:33
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    It sounds like indicating in which state you live may be helpful in garnering answers. Mar 21, 2016 at 23:28

6 Answers 6


Honestly I think it's better to introduce it to them first at home, where they can ask questions and understand more about it. Having the parents be the ones who sit down and talk about alcohol, as well as try some is a great learning experience, and allows you to give them the facts about being safe and understanding it's impairment. You get to control the environment without pressure or outside influence for the first time, and maybe that would make them better prepared for the college years as well.

Im 29, but remember having a couple drinks when I was 18 with my dad while we were camping for the weekend. We had a long talk about what it can do, not driving and being smart and responsible about it. He knew that no matter what he said I would still do what I wanted to, but he wanted me to at least understand as much about it as possible. We only had a couple beers but it was nice and calm to talk to him and ask questions about it. And was told that I should never, ever drink and drive no matter what, and I could always call him no matter what for a ride if I needed it.

From that moment, I felt closer to my dad and was always open about when I was going out or would be drinking. It was easier knowing my parents knew where I was and I always had a ride home if needed.

I don't see any harm in being the one to introduce it at all. Honestly, I recommend it, because if you don't, someone else will eventually, and they may not tell them to take it slow, or be responsible and they will over do it. Just my opinion but wanted to share my little story


Here in the UK, it is common to start letting kids have a taste, or small drink with food, from the age of 14, and in Mediterranean countries even earlier. (In the UK it is legal from the age of 5 - thanks @ArtofCode)

The advantages are that you get the opportunity to let them learn the effects, both positive and negative; learn the culture and social aspects; understand their limitations; learn how to handle alcohol without pressure from their peers — it is very different in a formal dinner with family than at a teenage party.

I know your legal aspects are a bit different, but you should certainly weigh up the benefits of being able to manage your son's first drinks, rather than have them happen secretly at school or parties. This also makes it much easier for him to communicate with you if there are any drink associated issues.

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    It's legal from 5 years old in the UK, I believe. Though giving your 5-year old a bottle of vodka is probably... inadvisable.
    – ArtOfCode
    Aug 25, 2016 at 22:22

I worked in substance abuse for 10 years. Although certain conclusions are difficult to make, it is true the vast majority of alcoholics and drug addicts started at home with condoned alcohol use, and the earlier the age the worse the addiction.

In the US, "Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor" is a major crime with the possibility of jail time. Religious ceremony has a definitive exclusion by federal law [See The Freedom of Religion Act].

Do not give your teenage child alcohol. It's dangerous. It's bad parenting. Let them make their own decisions when they turn 18.


Just as @RealParenting said, I think it's a good idea to introduce your son to alcohol at home.

I'm 18 y/o, which in Sweden is the legal age for buying alcoholic beverages on i.e. Restaurants/night clubs (you have to be 20 to buy strong beverages yourself (over 3,5%).

And my father talks to me a lot about alcohol (and has 'introduced' me to it at home), which I think has helped to some degree.

Where I live, I wouldn't have any problems at all getting my hands on pretty much anything I want, as long as I have the money for it. But since my father has taught me to drink responsibly, I do.

I have a lot of friends that havn't and I certainly do notice a difference.

And just to clarifiy, I'm not saying you should get your son drunk to the point where he barely can walk.

However, it's certainly better that you introduce him to it, rather than him getting introduced to it with his friends (which can and probably will end badly (in my experience)).

Good luck!

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    There is this pervasive notion, that it's the first experience that matters. It's not. Having a responsible, moderate first experience with alcohol does nothing to discourage high-risk binge drinking later on. Mar 21, 2016 at 14:02
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    Nearly everyone believes this. It just isn't true though, as numerous studies have shown. Mar 21, 2016 at 14:07
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    @user1751825 the link you provided is to a source with a blatantly clear bias, making it difficult to evaluate the merits of the studies. To be clear, I am certainly not criticizing drugfree.org, but a study conducted by an independent organization with no incentive for a finding one way or the other would be a lot more useful in convincing someone who doesn't necessarily already agree with you. Mar 21, 2016 at 23:26
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    @user1751825 That's exactly the point. A scientific study should not have a goal of finding a particular result, as it tends to influence those administering the study (even at a subconscious level). The study should instead be conducted by (and funded/commissioned by) an independent third party, that has no motive to find one way or the other, to avoid any possibility of confirmation bias, in order to ensure the reliability of the results. Mar 23, 2016 at 12:30
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    @user1751825 - you claim "multiple studies" but you only cite one, and it refers to parents hosting full-on parties, not introducing it in a very limited and moderate way. Sorry, but you have an agenda, one that you can't support objectively, or, at least, one that you haven't. Aug 25, 2016 at 17:06

The other answers are mostly based on personal belief, and conventional wisdom, but are refuted by studies on the subject.

It's actually a myth, that providing alcohol to minors at home encourages responsible drinking habits. The opposite is in fact true.


Here is another reference to a similar study. One with no potential bias.


The study mentioned in the previous news article can be found here (thanks Erica for finding this).

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    While they "cite" multiple studies, the citations only include author and year, making it tough to read and do further research on the subject. I'm particularly interested to see what other factors were considered and what approaches were compared -- I've still got a few years before I really worry about alcohol and my tween, but that time will fly by all too fast.
    – Acire
    Mar 21, 2016 at 22:08
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    I agree, without being able to read the original articles there is no way to know if the "drugfree" site is interpreting the research honestly. There clearly is a difference between parents letting a 12 year old grab a beer at will, and letting a teen have one glass of wine while supervised.
    – swbarnes2
    Mar 22, 2016 at 22:30
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    Try to find original studies rather than news summary (e.g. Parents Who Supply Sips of Alcohol in Early Adolescence: A Prospective Study of Risk Factors, Parental Supply of Alcohol: How Does It Prospectively Relate to Sipping and Drinking?). Also -- just because users want more information doesn't mean they're attempting to prove the opposite. Research on this appears to be fairly new, and we're here to help all parents learn.
    – Acire
    Mar 23, 2016 at 11:20
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    So, I read the study, and I discovered that the main finding of that study was that various factors at T1 (the first point in the study), such as parental perception of their children's associations with peers, predicted whether or not parents would provide alcohol at T2 (the second point, a year later), but that it did not find any significant prediction from parental supply at T1 to any other variable at T2. The news story may have misinterpreted the findings, illustrating the importance of linking to the study itself. Mar 23, 2016 at 13:15
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    Did YOU actually read your own links? From the article you linked, even the more biased one, it's clear they aren't talking about introducing them to alcohol in a home environment in a de-mystifying way. From YOUR link - "I'm not talking about giving a sip of alcohol or an occasional glass of a alcoholic beverage with a meal for an older teenager. I'm referring to parents to host a drinking party and provide alcohol, thinking they will be able to make it safe." Almost every response is talking about the former, not the latter. Aug 25, 2016 at 17:04

I've always offered my children the option of having alcohol whenever I or other adults had it. They occasionally would take a tiny taste, and generally refused. De-mystifying it, and removing the "this is the Forbidden Fruit that ADULTS can have, but you little kids can't" aura to alcohol is pretty big in helping to avoid the desire to dive in and go overboard to prove that they are either rebellious or grown-up.

Something to consider - what are the actual laws in your state? Some states it's illegal to furnish minors with alcohol. Others, it's illegal for establishments to sell or serve. In yet others, it's illegal for individuals who are not parents or guardians to do so.

In my state:

1) Illegal to sell to minors (well, under 21, but, you know).

2) Illegal to sell to adults if they enter the store with minors.

3) Illegal to serve minors who are not accompanied by a parent or guardian.

That's right, it's not only legal for me to allow my kids to try alcohol at home, it's legal to serve them at a restaurant if I'm with them and okay with it. Or, it was last time I checked, which was a long time ago.

It might not even be illegal for you to do so, if that's a concern. Check the specific state statutes.

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