Paul Steinberg, a psychiatrist in Washington, who is the former director of counseling at Georgetown University, said the attitude of forbidding adolescents to even so much as touch a drop of alcohol is almost counterproductive.
“The best evidence shows that teaching kids to drink responsibly is better than shutting them off entirely from it,” he said. “You want to introduce your kids to it, and get across the point that that this is to be enjoyed but not abused.”
He said that the most dangerous day of a young person’s life is the 21st birthday, when legality is celebrated all too fervently. Introducing wine as a part of a meal, he said, was a significant protection against bingeing behavior.
In 1983, Dr. George E. Vaillant, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, published “The Natural History of Alcoholism.” His study concluded that teenagers should be introduced to wine with meals. More than 25 years later, he still stands but the results.
But both men say sips of wine are key; they are not endorsing an entire glass.
“If you are taught to drink in a ceremonial way with food, then the purpose of alcohol is taste and celebration, not inebriation,” Vaillant added. “If you are forbidden to use it until college then you drink to get drunk.”
Not everyone agrees with this school of thought. Recent studies have shown that heavy drinking does more damage to the teenage brain than previously suspected, while the part of the brain responsible for judgment is not even fully formed until the age of 25.
But is it again naive to think teens won't experiment with alcohol until they are at least legal, let alone 25?