Should Parents Let Their Underage Kids Drink at Home?

By May Wilkerson 11/03/15

Does letting your teen drink at home with you watching actually reduce binge drinking later in life?

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Most of us know, or were raised by, those liberal-minded parents who let their kids “sip” a little alcohol in the home. This European model of teaching a kid to drink responsibly may actually be pretty effective, as long as the parents are actually monitoring their kids’ drinking and not just giving them free reign.

A new study from the University of Buffalo finds that kids who were allowed to drink in the home were less likely to binge drink later on, unless they grew up in single-parent homes or blended homes, such as a parent and a step-parent.

Researchers surveyed nearly 772 adolescents over the course of 15 years. They found that kids who lived with both biological parents and were allowed to drink as teens showed the lowest levels of alcohol use and related problems over time.

However, the kids in blended or single family homes, who were permitted to drink, showed the highest level of alcohol use and the most problems down the road.

The findings show that parental supervision is essential in situations where kids “learn” to drink early on. “Research shows a primary protective factor for kids is supervision by their parents, which can tie into kids using alcohol,” said Kirsten Cullen Sharma, co-director of NYU Langone Child Study Center. “Greater levels of supervision lead to less risky behavior.”

Although people under the age of 21 can not legally buy alcohol in the United States, teens ages 12 to 20 drink 11% of all booze consumed in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And not all underage drinking is illegal. According to the Wall Street Journal, in 31 states parents can legally provide alcohol to minors.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.