Letting your little one have an occasional sip of alcohol may be sending him or her the wrong message suggests a new report.
According to the study, children that are allowed to sporadically sip alcohol as youngsters are more likely to start drinking by the time they are in high school.
Researchers followed 561 middle school students in Rhode Island for about three years. At the start of sixth grade (about age 11), nearly 30 percent of the students said they'd had at least one sip of alcohol.
The alcohol was provided in most cases by parents and given at parties or special occasions.
By ninth grade, 26 percent of those who'd had sips of alcohol at a younger age said they'd had at least one full alcoholic drink, compared with less than 6 percent of those who didn't get sips of alcohol when younger.
The researchers also found that 9 percent of the sippers had gotten drunk or engaged in binge drinking by ninth grade, compared with just under 2 percent of the non-sippers.
The study’s lead researcher Kristina Jackson, of Brown University’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, in Providence, Rhode Island, said the findings don’t prove that sips of alcohol at a young age absolutely leads to teen drinking.
"We're not trying to say whether it's 'OK' or 'not OK' for parents to allow this," Jackson said in a journal news release.
She noted that some parents believe that introducing children to alcohol at home teaches them about responsible drinking and reduces the appeal of alcohol.
"Our study provides evidence to the contrary," Jackson said.
Giving sips of alcohol to young children may send them a "mixed message," she suggested.
"At that age, some kids may have difficulty understanding the difference between a sip of wine and having a full beer," Jackson said.
For the study, Jackson’s team tried to account for other factors that might contribute to underage drinking such as parent’s drinking habits and any family history of alcoholism as well as the kid’s tendency to be impulsive or a high-risk taker.
Jackson says that there was still a connection between the early sipping and drinking by high school age.
She also stressed that parents who have already given their child sips of wine or beer shouldn’t be alarmed, but should think about sending their child a clear message about alcohol use and abuse.
The study was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
Sources: Robert Preidt, http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20150331/letting-kids-sip-alcohol-may-send-wrong-message