LeBron James says his kids drink wine at home — is this dangerous?

LeBron James and his family attend the premiere of "Smallfoot" on Sept. 22, 2018, in Westwood, Calif. Harmony Gerber/FilmMagic

As a celebrity parent, all eyes (and ears) are on you and your parenting style, which can have consequences. And surely, no one knows this more than LeBron James right now.

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The NBA icon revealed to CBS Sports recently that his sons, LeBron Jr. and Bryce, 14 and 11 years old, drink wine at home with their parents.

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“I got very mature 14- and 11-year-olds,” he said. “My 14- and 11-year-olds drink wine. That’s how mature they are.”

He quickly followed it up with a jocular: “They’ll be driving next week, too.”

When asked whether they drink red or white wine, James said: “Whatever Dad and Mom’s having. Put it on me, though. Don’t put it on Mom. Put it on Dad. Put it on Dad.”

Although it’s unclear whether the basketball star was being serious about allowing his children to drink alcohol, his comments were met with expected backlash.

Plenty of commenters defended James, pointing out that teens in Europe often drink moderate amounts of alcohol at home with their parents, which they believe is a way to demystify alcohol and instill a healthy attitude toward its consumption.

However, researchers don’t universally support this belief.

READ MORE: Mom says letting children drink alcohol at home teaches them responsibility 

In a 2016 study published in the journal Pediatrics, Australian researchers examined 1,729 parent-child dyads (where the children were in Grade 7) over a two-year period and found that kids who had been supplied with “sips” of alcohol by their parents were more likely to engage with substance-using peers.

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“What was really interesting was to find the parents who were supplying alcohol to their children, they had good parenting practices, they had strict rules, they monitored their children’s relationships,” Dr. Monika Wadolowski, an epidemiologist and lead author of the study, said to the New York Times. “The biggest predictors were whether they thought their children’s friends were drinking.”

This could indicate that the parents thought exposing their children to alcohol sooner would mitigate their curiosity about it or peer pressure later in life.

However, subsequent research conducted by Wadolowski found children who sipped alcohol that was provided to them by their parents were no more likely to drink so it may not be a bad tactic — although the jury is still out on that.

“It was other factors that actually led them to start drinking, so things like if their peers were using alcohol, if they were having rule-breaking behaviour, that kind of thing. It wasn’t actually the supply of the sip that led to drinking itself,” she said to ABC News Australia.

“Knowing that parents are supplying sips, and if they are supplying it in the hope that they are protecting their children, that’s a really important factor to tap into for future prevention efforts.”

READ MORE: Should people with depression avoid drinking alcohol? 

Despite this more optimistic outlook, other researchers tend to err on the side of protecting kids from alcohol at a young age.

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Another study looked at 561 students in Grade 6 to find associations between early sipping to full consumption of alcohol over the subsequent three years. The findings, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, indicate that kids who sipped alcohol in Grade 6 were more likely to consume a full drink, get drunk or drink heavily by Grade 9. Most of the study participants indicated that their first sips of alcohol were provided to them at home, most likely by a parent.

“Our findings that early sipping is associated with elevated odds of risky behaviours at high school entry dispute the idea of sipping as a protective factor,” the study authors concluded. “Offering even just a sip of alcohol may undermine messages about the unacceptability of alcohol consumption for youth.”

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