Archive for Monday, March 24, 2008

Better with age?

Foodie’ parents give children early taste of alcohol, but not all feel it’s a wise idea

Five-year-old Malia Llerena, center, toasts glasses of wine with her parents, Patrick, left, and Genevieve Llerena at their home during dinner in Healdsburg, Calif. Malia was drinking a glass of watered-down wine.

Five-year-old Malia Llerena, center, toasts glasses of wine with her parents, Patrick, left, and Genevieve Llerena at their home during dinner in Healdsburg, Calif. Malia was drinking a glass of watered-down wine.

March 24, 2008


On the street

At what age do you think it’s appropriate for parents to let their children drink alcohol under their supervision?

I think 18 is old enough, unless there are some family issues with alcohol or mental illness. I mean, we’re not talking about getting drunk here.

More responses

Five-year-old Malia Llerena smells the aroma of a glass of wine made by her parents as her mother, Genevieve Llerena, looks on at their home in Healdsburg, Calif.

And of course, she can identify a corkscrew. After all, she's already 5 years old.

"We're a very gourmet family," says her father, Patrick Llerena, who owns boutique California winery Iridesse Wines. "Educating her about wine is a part of life training. I am not advocating it for everyone, but it is part of our life."

As American foodie culture has evolved, parents like Llerena have adopted the southern European custom of offering young children small amounts of wine, hoping to remove the forbidden fruit appeal and teach an appreciation for fine dining.

Many parents and health officials are appalled by the practice, citing concerns about alcohol's effect on developing brains. And the American Academy of Pediatrics warns that giving children any amount of alcohol is a poor parenting choice, pointing out that the substance is a neurological toxin.

Proponents argue more harm comes from diets of processed foods and soda pop than from a few sips of wine.

And in some parts of the country, the law is on their side. While the legal drinking age is 21, exceptions in some states, such as Texas and Minnesota, allow parents to serve alcohol to their own children.

In Kansas, it is generally illegal for parents to supply their children with any type of alcohol, says Freda Warfield, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Revenue, which enforces state liquor laws.

The one exception to that is that parents are allowed to give their children wheat beer, she says, while the parents are supervising their children.

Not common

There is no evidence the practice is widespread, but it certainly exists, some food experts say.

"I wouldn't label it a trend, but I do hear about it at school," says Einav Gefen, a chef and instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. Gefen teaches cooking classes to parents, children and career chefs and has three children under the age of 6.

Among Gefen's parenting peers, she says giving small amounts of wine is not uncommon. "It is done in good taste and not on a regular basis - maybe with fancier meals," she adds.

Parents say they consider the practice educational.

"The proud parent in me would hope she would become knowledgeable about wine and be able to isolate flavors," says Llerena, who claims his daughter's first coherent sentence was "May I have more Champagne, please?"

"We also know enough about dangers inherent in drinking that we aren't going to give her a full glass of wine," says Llerena, of Healdsburg, Calif. In fact, her wine is often watered-down. "It's not like were giving her shots of tequila!"

But alcohol is a neurological toxin, says Janet Williams, chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Substance Abuse Committee; it can adversely affect a child's developing brain.

"You could be affecting a child's intelligence and ability to function in the world," she warns. It isn't clear whether young children accustomed to drinking wine will develop a dangerous habit as a teen or adult, she says.

"People can become connoisseurs of alcohol as adults. It's not something that you get better at because you started at 3 or 13," she says,

Saying 'when'

There also is the issue of how to say no to children who develop a taste for wine.

That was the case with 21-month-old Summer Sorensen of Chesterfield, Mass. Her parents used to give her a tiny amount of wine with dinner. Until she started demanding it. Now Summer drinks water from her wine glass.

"We had a hard time explaining why she could drink all the milk she wanted but could only have a small amount of wine," says her mother, Tina Cornell.

But Llerena, the winery owner, isn't worried that serving Malia wine will adversely affect her growing brain. There are other things in childhood to worry about. "Malia chewing on her Chinese toy is going to be worse than that," he says.

David Hanson, a sociology professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Potsdam who has studied alcohol for more than 30 years, says giving children small amounts of wine is common elsewhere in the world.

But he says the cultural taboo in the U.S. prompts otherwise proud gourmet parents to keep quiet.

"I find there are a lot of people who think it's a good idea (serving children wine) but don't want to say so publicly," he says. "There are people who are reluctant to admit it."

In countries where wine plays a strong cultural role, it is natural for children to become familiar with it at young ages.

"In the Mediterranean, especially in Greece, many people make their own wine and children partake in the process, learning the agricultural side of it in a village setting," says Athens-based Greek food writer Diane Kochilas.

"Offering a sip of something that is sanctioned culturally, religiously and even scientifically - a glass or two of red wine is good for us - in the Mediterranean is hardly akin to setting a child on the path to alcoholism," she says.

Fourteen-year-old Trey Wark, of Glen Ellen, Calif., was 4 or 5 when his father gave him his first sips of sweet wine.

"We taught him how to swirl the glass, bring it to his nose and then take a sip. And we always ask what it tastes like," says his father Tom Wark, who wants his children to revere good food and wine, and think about what they are ingesting.

Stanton Peele, psychologist and author of "Addiction Proof Your Child," thinks the U.S. sends the wrong message by forbidding alcohol until 21. He sees no problem with serving young children small amounts of wine with a meal.

"Those parents are importing a whole different cultural experience," he says. "And while it may seem alien to many Americans, it is actually quite a positive experience."

"Let's try to teach kids to drink in a normal setting," he says.


Paul Geisler 10 years, 2 months ago

'offtotheright', I presume you are speaking about yourself!

My parents grew up in a German-American farming community not far from here where using wheat and barley to make beer, or using grapes to make wine, was just as much a part of farming as was using wheat flour to make your bread. In that setting, having their kids enjoy a little wine at dinner, or having a few sips of their father's beer in the evening, wasn't a bit unusual at all. So when my parents quit farming and moved to Topeka they continued those traditions, allowing me and my siblings to have a few sips of beer beginning at a very young age.

Despite those early influences with alcohol I am not an alcoholic. I still enjoy great beer and great wine, but I rarely drink at home. And when I do I'm not pounding it down trying to get drunk. So when my wife and I want to share a few sips of wine or beer with our young children on special occasions then we will handle that situation much the same way my parents did. With openness, honesty, and sense of responsibility.

BrianR 10 years, 2 months ago

rammy (Mr_Ramirez) says: ewwwwwwww, youre such a sophisticated family !!!

Trolling or trying to leave your comfort zone to make some kind of point?

Wake up, prohibition is the leading cause of overpowering curiosity.

George_Braziller 10 years, 2 months ago

My family did the same thing when we were kids. At Thanksgiving or any other special occasion when wine was served we always got a small amount as well. When my sister was a toddler she always liked to take a sip of my dad's one Coor's that he drank after work. It had no detrimental effect on us. We all grew up to be intelligent adults and none of us turned into an alcoholic.

tonythetiger 10 years, 2 months ago

All right Magnus, I think that I will have a few drinks. Hey, it makes me feel alright so I think I will pass the bottle on to my little tyke.

Here have a few on us. Want more? Well, as you get older you might find the keys to the liquor cabinet.

That is okay statistically it does not quite show the long term effects of alcohol on the body yet but I will stick to feeding my six year old oats, bananas, and peanuts to be "in" with the crowd so that her heart will grow strong and so will her developing bones and muscles and circulatory and nervous system.

Oh, yeah the thing about the gastro-intestinal tract that makes it easier to digest arguement.

Confrontation 10 years, 2 months ago

"You could be affecting a child's intelligence and ability to function in the world," she warns. It isn't clear whether young children accustomed to drinking wine will develop a dangerous habit as a teen or adult, she says."

Why would these stupid parents care if their child's brain is being hurt? Most parents are using this "little bit o' alcohol" to shut their kids up and calm them down. Typical bad parenting by ignorant parents.

Paul Geisler 10 years, 2 months ago

Tonythetiger, I'm not really sure what your point was with that rambling post (oats, bananas and peanuts?), but I hope you are not implying that if a parent allows their child to have a little bit of wine or beer they must not be providing their child with good nutritious food.

Confrontation, Do you speak from experience as a parent? Personally, I hope not. I would argue that most parents who allow their children to sip a little wine or beer on a special occasion are actually better educated and better informed as parents than those that wouldn't consider such a thing. (How many redneck families are having a nice bottle of Chardonnay with their hamburger helper meal?) For example, my wife and I both hold degrees from KU and we both hold down professional jobs.

And your suggestion that these parents (or others like myself) are using alcohol to "shut their kids up and calm them down" is ludicrous. No where in the article does it suggest that these people are giving their child alcohol in order to keep them quiet!

I can assure you that I am not a bad parent because I have allowed my young child to sip some wine or have a taste of his daddy's beer. Nor am I ignorant about the subject. Why can't more Americans look at the societal norms of many Western European countries where minors are allowed to enjoy a little wine with their meal?

sdinges 10 years, 2 months ago

"..Tom Wark, who wants his children to revere good food and wine, and think about what they are ingesting."

Well, to those who oppose this kind of attitude toward food and alcohol, there's a good chance that your kid will be obese and getting drunk every weekend by the time they're 16, whereas Tom Wark's kid will treat his body with respect because he thinks every time he puts a glass or a fork to his mouth.

I can't imagine what possible justification there is for not teaching your child to think about what they are ingesting at an early age. Good habits start young. But my parents are British, so I suppose I must have that "alien" mentality!

beawolf 10 years, 2 months ago

During the middle ages, beer and wine were the least contaminated beverages available, so they were often given to children during meals. Fresh water was not common due to poor sanitary conditions and milk was unpasteurized. The tradition continued to modern times. My grandparents of German heritage would often have a pitcher of beer at the table for all to enjoy. My grandfather, who lived to 97, often claimed he had a glass of beer everyday of his life since the age of 3.

buddy2me 10 years, 2 months ago

I agree with the ones that have posted about letting their children have a sip of wine or beer. I also let my kids have a taste if they wanted. One of my kids is in college and the other two are in high school. I can tell you that their first comment to me is that their friends are all drinking heavy at parties around town. They are forbidden to drink infront of their parents so when they are at parties they drink heavy and fast. My kids don't need to experiment, they already know what it is and it's no big deal to them. My oldest daughter said that when she went to college it was very easy to see the kids that their parents didn't let them be as free at home with alcohol, they were now on their own and they were going to party hardy. It's just like when I was a kid, if my parents told me to stay away from something, the more I wanted it. I'm sure not every kid is like this, but saying that because my kids were given drinks of wine or beer when they were little is going to make them an alcoholic now is just insane. My oldest has a Masters degree and is very successful.

beawolf 10 years, 2 months ago

The use of alcohol does not predict the development of alcoholism.

Confrontation 10 years, 2 months ago

magnus: It's interesting that you would consider a parent who is concerned with the health of their child's brain to be the "bad" parent. Do you advocate lighting up a joint for your young one, too? I also love how some losers are trying to claim that parents who don't give their kids alcohol are going to make their kids obese alcoholics. Also, for those parents who think that letting your kids have some liquor will prevent them from becoming alcoholics or binge drinkers, you are fooling yourselves. I have several friends whose parents let them drink when they were young, and none of them knew "when to say when."

terrapin2 10 years, 2 months ago

Confrontation-Are you seriously saying that an occasional SIP of wine or beer, not consuming an entire glass/bottle, is damaging their brain? Please. Like someone else pointed out, the crap a lot of parents feed their kids does more damage. No one here is suggesting that their kids are getting wasted or that they are trying to calm them down by giving them a bunch of liquor. Get off your high moral horse. And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that if you teach your kids the appropriate and responsible way to drink, that they will be much less likely to be binge drinkers when left to their own devices. Also, no one said anything about lighting up joints for their kids. Settle down!

pisafromthewest 10 years, 2 months ago

magnus (Anonymous) says:

"(How many redneck families are having a nice bottle of Chardonnay with their hamburger helper meal?) For example, my wife and I both hold degrees from KU and we both hold down professional jobs."

Which would explain the monumental effete snobbery.

WHY 10 years, 2 months ago

I can't believe how any of you have the energy to argue in favor or against a "few sips" of anything. 18 year olds should be able to drink whatever they wish, and an occasional drink will not harm anyone. The idea of teaching your kids how to drink responsibly is stupid. Some of us like to drink, some don't, and some of us like to drink a lot. There is no specific training necessary.

Confrontation 10 years, 2 months ago

terrapin2: Go ahead and feel free to damage your own child. The poor kid never had a chance with your genes, anyhow.

terrapin2 10 years, 2 months ago

Offtotheright: There's almost no point arguing with your unwavering blind right-wing illogic. It is not ignorance, nor is it child abuse. Spanking your children is considered child abuse by some folks these days, including myself. But a few sips of wine or beer on special occasions (i.e., 2 or 3 times a year).....not so much. As for a child drinking wine in California (if you actually read the caption under the picture), here is California law re: alcohol for minors: Some States' provisions do not apply reciprocal exceptions to both the provider of alcohol and the minor (e.g., California permits minors to possess alcohol in private locations, but it is illegal for anyone to provide alcohol to minors in any setting).
So technically it was against the law to give the wine to their daughter, but it was not illegal for their daughter to be in possession of a glass of wine. Sounds about right for Cali!

Confrontation: Someone sounds bitter. Actually, when one smart person combines their genes with another smart person they usually end up with smart offspring. At least I know that is how it worked in our case. Our child is not a damaged child at all. In fact our child excels in school and sports, and is very sociable and well-spoken!

jonas 10 years, 2 months ago

terrapin2 (Anonymous) says:

"Offtotheright: There's almost no point arguing with your unwavering blind right-wing illogic."

Since he's just trying to make people angry, I would suggest that you should remove the "almost" from your point.

Kam_Fong_as_Chin_Ho 10 years, 1 month ago

This reminds me of a news item I heard about in which a baby sitter was busted for blowing marijuana smoke in a baby's face in order to get it high.

A tumbler full of cabernet? What the heck is wrong with people?!

terrapin2 10 years, 1 month ago

b3 and offtotheright: Who are the idiots here??? You are the ones that keep insinuating that we are talking about giving our child their own glass of wine! I have repeatedly stated that we are talking about a few sips, on a few special occasions! Get off your mistaken notion that we are getting our kids drunk by giving them multiple glasses of wine or beer!

rocketscientist1600 10 years, 1 month ago

apparently none of you are catholic. i have had a sip of wine once a week since my first communion at age 8. i doubt anyone would claim that to be child abuse.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.