WELL-meaning parents who give their children sips of wine or beer to gently introduce them to alcohol could be fuelling binge drinking, according to a seven year study.
They are just as likely to grow up with alcohol-related problems as they would be if they got their first taste of underage drinking from other sources.
But they may be no more likely to become dependent on alcohol than if they had not been given anything to drink by their parents, it added.
Many parents believe that by allowing the occasional sip of alcohol at a young age, their children are less likely to end up getting drunk behind their backs when they go out with friends and that it will help them drink sensibly as they get older.
But it could have the opposite effect, said researchers who followed nearly 2,000 youngsters from their first tastes of it at 12 to 13-years-old and were then monitored every year for the next seven years.
It found that when children were given alcohol by parents but did not receive it from any other source they still had higher odds of binge drinking in later life than if they had not been given any alcohol at all.
And being allowed alcohol at home was no better than getting it elsewhere for some alcohol related problems when they were older.
The study was led by Alexandra Aiken of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at Sydney's University of New South Wales and reported to the specialist journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
She reported: "Among those not receiving alcohol from other sources, parental supply of sips was associated with increased odds of binge drinking and alcohol-related harms but not with reporting symptoms of alcohol abuse or dependence compared with no supply.
"Relative to no supply, supply of sips from other sources was associated with increased odds of binge drinking only."
Allowing children to have sips of alcohol rather than 'whole drinks' was related to less risk of all alcohol-associated problems in years to come, she added.
But not giving children alcohol at all may be best of all because when parents allow children to drink, the youngsters may think it legitimises boozing in general and could even get them hooked on it earlier than they would normally.
The study reported: "These findings suggest that while parents supplying larger amounts of alcohol is associated with worse outcomes, even supplying relatively small quantities such as sips increases the risk of adverse outcomes for children.
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