Kids Making Drinks

There’s no question from readers this week. Instead, Helena will address a situation encountered during a recent social engagement.

The other night I went to a friend’s house for dinner. Sidecars were served beforehand, and they were delicious. This was particularly impressive since a five-year-old made them (with his dad’s help and supervision). The kid also had a “cocktail” of his own: water with a sugar lump in it. He was clearly thrilled at being allowed to hang out with the adults, and when he’s older, knowing how to make a signature cocktail will be a great skill to have. But is it a good idea to ask your kids to make and serve alcoholic drinks?

If you’re worried it will turn them into alcoholics later in life, know that there is no conclusive data on this. A variety of causes contribute to alcoholism, so it’s hard to isolate one factor—like, say, encouraging your kid to mix drinks.

In lieu of any overwhelming evidence, here are some things to consider. First off, do you want your kid serving anything at a party? Children will often do everything they can to curry favor with adults, and younger ones will be especially eager to fetch whatever you tell them to, whether it’s booze or Ritz crackers. It might be fun for them to help, but encouraging them to engage in conversation with the adults is important, too. Christie Mellor, author of Were You Raised by Wolves? Clues to the Mysteries of Adulthood, says: “So many kids don’t even look a grownup in the eye when they say hello. And when asked ‘How are you?’ a grunt is not an appropriate response.” Teaching kids to make small talk will serve them better than instructing them on how to make the perfect martini.

Another thing to consider is whether you would approve if your child took a sip of what he or she was fixing. Again, the jury’s out on whether letting kids drink a bit with the adults will save them from alcohol abuse later in life. Dr. Robert A. Zucker, director of the University of Michigan Addiction Research Center, says, “It’s simplistic to think that if you offer [your kids] alcohol … that will protect them, if there are a bunch of other nonprotective factors, like you don’t spend a lot of time with them or know who their friends are.”

At the very least, wait until your kid is physically big enough to have a drink without getting hammered. And if she’s not, or you’d rather she not drink, consider if she might get more out of helping with something she can sample. You wouldn’t ask a dieter to dish up profiteroles, or a vegan to pass around the beef carpaccio.

But will drink-making children develop a kind of Pavlovian response that serving adults alcohol will get them love and attention? I know it sounds far-fetched, but the question crossed my mind when I was at a wedding recently. A friend’s little girl kept bringing glasses of wine to some other guests and myself, even after we’d told her we wanted water, not wine. It made me uncomfortable, and I wondered if she hadn’t been encouraged to play bartender at one too many parties. There were no doubt lots of other reasons for her behavior, but I remembered it when later I attended the Sidecar party.

In any case, whether or not you allow children to mix cocktails, don’t drink too many in their presence. There’s arguably nothing more unsettling to a child than to see his parents drunk and out of control.

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.