Researchers have found that childhood initiation of sipping or tasting alcohol was less related to psychosocial proneness for problem behaviour and more related to perceived parental approval.
    
"We don't really know yet whether childhood sipping or tasting has any negative consequences," said John E Donovan, associate professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh as well as corresponding author for the study.
    
"Our previous research found that sipping or tasting by age 10 was significantly related to early-onset drinking, that is, having more than a sip or a taste before age 15.
    
"And previous research has found that early-onset drinking is associated with numerous negative outcomes in both adolescence and young adulthood, such as alcohol abuse and dependence, illicit drug use, prescription drug misuse, delinquent behaviour, risky sexual behaviour, motor vehicle crashes, job problems, etc.
    
"So, logically, childhood sipping may relate to these later problems as well, but it may not be the case that sipping in childhood has any negative outcomes. We just don't know yet," Donovan said.
    
In the new study, Donovan and colleagues found that children who sipped alcohol before age 12 reported that their parents were more approving of child sipping or tasting alcohol, and more likely to be current drinkers than did children who did not have a first sip of alcohol before age 12.
    
The study also found that children who started sipping before age 12 did not differ from children who did not on variables that have been shown in previous research to relate to involvement in other kinds of problem behaviour in adolescence, such as problem drinking, marijuana use, other drug use, delinquent behaviour, and risky sexual behaviour.
    
"This finding suggests that sipping during childhood is not itself a problem behaviour like delinquent behaviour or drug use," Donovan said.
    
"In other words, first sipping is not an early indicator of issues that would be of concern to parents, namely problem proneness," said Robert A Zucker, director of the Addiction Research Center at the University of Michigan.
    
"At the same time, the study does demonstrate that earlier sipping is related to a familial culture of more alcohol use, expressed via parental approval of sipping in their children, and by greater alcohol consumption by the parents," Zucker said.
    
"This research suggests that if children do not see their parents as strongly disapproving of child sipping, the children will be more likely to take a first step into alcohol use," Donovan added.
    
"More than that, however, it shows that if parents drink in front of their children, their children will be more likely to sip or taste alcohol as a child," he said.

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