Individuals up to 18 yrs old (or 21 in some jurisdictions) are not supposed to drink alcoholic beverages. But it is an open secret that this obligation is being notoriously broken and convincing children to actually keep it is a great challenge for parents.

Can the very fact that a child knows their mother or father does occasionally have a drink prompt them to drink prematurely? Can this make it more difficult for such a parent to talk to their child once they find out the child was drinking prematurely?

I remember watching a TV show were a mother returning home with her quite young child found an unexpected party thrown for her there. And she did have one drink there, though somewhat grudgingly, for she was kind of irritated with this surprise party. Later the show humorously hinted the child got seriously drunk there.

This made me think, how could such a mother talk to her child after this party?

“But Mum, you were drinking this yourself!”

“I can, you can’t. Fine enough?”

I suppose such a dialogue isn’t going to be any helpful…

Or should parents of children of any age be teetotal to gain credibility while expecting their children not to drink?

  • 3
    I do not have time to answer but my parents drank and I even saw my dad tipsy at their parties. We were allowed to drink wine on special holidays.. a very tiny glass. I am not an alcoholic. My brother is not either. We made a few teenage mistakes but knew my parents meant it when they said they would come get us for any reason. It is perfectly reasonable that you can and they cannot. Driving is another example of something adults do that kids cannot.
    – WRX
    Apr 1, 2017 at 22:34

4 Answers 4


I personally think any black-or-white approach to substances or behaviours that may be harmful in excess is not the best way to choose.

I will on purpose ignore legal aspects for most of this answer (but see the bottom for that topic).

We as parents are responsible to teach our children moderation and how to deal with temptation. We know that too much refined sugar is "bad"1 for us. Yet many children have sweet cereal, soft drinks and the occasional candy bar. And together with a balanced diet and exercise, this is no problem. But too much of it certainly is.

On the other hand, we all have seen children from very strict households, where sweet stuff is forbidden, "pounce" on cake and candy at parties or invest their pocket money in chocolate bars which they often consume in secret, hiding from their parents.

Now feel free to substitute sugar with coffee, alcohol, sex... for older teens and young adults and you'll probably see a pattern.

If we look at the question from a more general angle, teaching our children to deal with all sorts of temptation, is a way of setting them up for success. Let me remind you of the famous Marshmallow Test: Children are placed in front of something they like (a marshmallow) and promised a second one if they managed to not eat the one in front of them while the person administering the test leaves the room. Children that could control their impulse in the test were found to be statistically more likely to do well later in life - better grades, but also a lower risk of substance abuse. Newer research suggests that this impulse control and ability to deal with delayed gratification can be trained.
(And it's probably a good thing to do so.)

But how are we going to teach healthy behavioural patterns? Like everything else: we model and explain. And this is true for all aspects of life. Food, TV habits, relationships, and, yes, alcohol and cigarettes. Reminder: Children have fine antennae for hypocrisy. They observe what's going on both in your household and in the rest of the society we live in.

So be prepared to have your behaviour questioned, but even if you don't drink, the adult society as a whole does, at least occasionally.

For younger children, it is easy to divide between "what adults can do" and "what children can do" - the examples are manigfold: driving a car, voting in a election, ...and drinking coffee, beer or wine.

When children get older, we gradually give them liberties and responsibilities. We also broach "sensitive" topics like responsible sex. (And that is way different once your teen has a girlfriend or boyfriend and you leave the safe world of theoretical explanations.)

Teaching how to deal responsibly with alcohol falls into the same category (but without the "ewwww" factor). So if you have an occasional glass of wine, I suggest you don't worry, but model how an adult drinks responsibly: not habitually and in moderation. In our society, alcohol consumption is part of social gatherings - a great way of showing your teen how having a designated driver works. Talk and explain. Explain, how alcohol lowers self-control. Explain strategies how to deal with peer pressure or how and when to switch to non-alcoholic beverages during a party. And - that's my personal opinion - if an older teen can experience the first effects of alcohol in the safe surroundings of home, they know the signs and when to stop drinking.

And you de-mystify the stuff: for my (younger) children, coffee and alcoholic beverages are "yuck" - they know that they may ask to taste whatever we are having, but have decided for themselves, that they are not interested.

Now to the legal aspects:
Countries have different laws. Your child must know and obey the laws - like everyone else. You might want to double-check, though: While your older teen might not be able to buy and drink alcohol in a shop or restaurant, it may be perfectly legal for your child to try a sip of beer or wine at home and under your supervision as a parent. But above all, make totally clear that you as parent will always be there to pick your child up if a designated driver has been drinking or your child ignored the law and feels tipsy. The life and safety of your child may depend on that.

1 obviously simplified, but I didn't want to list effects here

  • 2
    This is a good answer. Forbidding things automatically makes them interesting. Making them a normal part of life makes them mundane and boring. For comparison; more people had smoked weed in the US when it was highly illegal and could get you sent to jail than in the NL, where you could buy it on the street corner. Without the "forbidden fruit" factor, a lot of appeal is lost.
    – Erik
    Apr 2, 2017 at 9:44
  • I think your answer is excellent. I was taught to drink in moderation and I think I've only been tipsy 3 or 4 times and drunk once. I think (and so far for us it is working) that being in communication with your child is important because you never have to sit down with a 'the talk'. The conversation is ongoing. I remember asking (at 10 years of age) to try Dad's scotch and thinking "Why would anyone want to drink that?" Mystery -- nope.
    – WRX
    Apr 2, 2017 at 14:32
  • @Willow it seems we've been raised on the same principle and with very similar results. I also vividly remember a students exchange with the US when I was sixteen. We Germans had perhaps one beer, if any, our American counterparts snook alcohol wherever they could, both in the US (illegal) and in Germany (legal).
    – Stephie
    Apr 2, 2017 at 15:10
  • My parents are/were Brits and the Brits have a different idea about alcohol. I think Brits/Europeans are more sensible in general about alcohol. Do we want kids drinking? No. But a tiny amount and lessons make more sense than making another taboo/mystery. When we were served wine with dinner it was less than half of a sherry glass. I liked Champagne and Pouilly-Fuissé but not red wine because the red tasted like alcohol to me.
    – WRX
    Apr 2, 2017 at 15:28

The simple fact is that alcohol is specially damaging to the developing brain, so while an adult can have a drink from time to time without much consequence, the same can't be said of a younger brain.

Arguing that adults can do things that children can't is somewhat arbitrary. Unless there is good reason for it, teenagers will resent any rule imposed on them "just because", which will trigger a rebellious reaction and probably make them drink more than if it wasn't.

So tell them that it is like poison to their brains because they are still growing up, but that it won't do that much damage to your own brain.

  • 1
    That kind of logic won't hold up with an older teenager or young adult. In their logic, the rules for adults apply, not those for children.
    – Stephie
    Apr 2, 2017 at 9:55
  • @Stephie, True enough, but at least you have something better than "cos I say so"; and some of them may even be smart enough as to accept it. Apr 2, 2017 at 11:07

In some places parents can be charged for allowing children to drink alcohol before the legal age, but in my culture we drink wine every Friday evening as part of a special meal. The wine is sweet and our children get only enough to perform the ritual.

My eldest is now at university and is part of a group that follows Shabbat and they have permission to drink as part of the ritual in the company of the rabbi. He has never been drunk and is very mature.

We are very proud of our children. I think we teach responsibility by giving our children the information they need, the respect they have earned, and then we let them live their lives.

I think you can drink alcohol in front of your children as long as you show by example that you do not drink too much or too often.


There are 2 different questions in your text.

Can the very fact that a child knows their mother or father does occasionally have a drink prompt them to drink prematurely?

This is basic advertisement. If a product is presented as something that's desired by your peers, you're more likely to try the product. Keep in mind, even if you don't drink at all, there's lots of other sources that advertise drinking, especially in TV shows.

“But Mum, you were drinking this yourself!”

“I can, you can’t. Fine enough?”

Here you imply that children can't drink alcohol just because, and that drinking alcohol before legal drinking age is very bad. I think some disagree with you, given that "legal drinking age" varies a lot by culture. Some allow it from 16, others ban alcohol for live.

Instead, you should focus on why alcohol is banned for children. Tell the child what the problem with drinking alcohol is. I won't repeat the reasons for the age limit on alcohol here because some reasons are obvious and the others are culture-specific. Also tell her why you drink alcohol despite these problems.

  • Why is this answer downvoted?
    – gaazkam
    Apr 2, 2017 at 15:50

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