By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Feb 19, 2007 at 5:22 AM

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I come from an Italian family, so drinking alcohol as a kid wasn't a big deal. No, we didn't get loaded before sitting on Santa's lap, but it was perfectly acceptable to take a swig from Grandpa's Michelob, or even to have a small glass of wine. My great grandmother, I admit, did take it too far, and to this day we laugh about her actually saying, "Pete, fix the baby a cocktail." Indeed, she was referring to my then 2-year-old sister who was babbling about being thirsty.

Kids are curious, love to sample new things and many of their early learning experiences are centered on the five senses. So it seems natural that a child would want to experiment with taste, especially if they detect something is off limits to them.

So is there harm in letting a kid sip an alcoholic beverage?

I think it depends on whether or not alcoholism runs in the family. If it does, than it's best to steer clear of the hard stuff until the kid is old enough to understand the risk he or she is taking by imbibing. But if alcoholism isn't a family issue, is it better to remove the mystery from drinking and let kids realize, at an early age, that it's not that big of a deal? Or should beer sampling simply be on the long list of "no-nos," right under episodes of 'South Park' and boxes of Lucky Charms?

Erin Samson thinks it perfectly fine to let her sons, age 8 and 11, take the occasional nip from her beer or cocktail. "They don't even like the way it tastes. It's just fun for them to try them," she says. "It's no big deal."

But where do you draw the line? Letting a kid take a drag off your Camel isn't appropriate, but what about coffee?

My oldest son is Guatemalan, and it's common for Guatemalans to give coffee to babies. Coffee is cheap and available in Guatemala, not to mention a source of pride, and in their culture there is nothing wrong with kids drinking it. All the same, my son came to the United States four years ago, and although I respect Guatemalan culture immensely, I have yet to give him a latte.

I would, however, give him a sip of coffee if he asked, and for the record, I would probably give him a sip of a beer as well, but I might question what I was doing on some level. Even if my gut says it's OK, my intellect might play devil's advocate, or even flat-out question if it was going to affect his future behavior.

Perhaps this is where the real issue comes in: Do we have that much control over our kids' lives? Will the occasional sip of beer really affect anything in the long term?

According to a wise woman I know, parenting is a crapshoot. You know what she's talking about: The children of vegetarians own Burger Kings, Waldorf school graduates wind up working in the media, and kids who sip their parents' beer could become contemporary prohibitionists. As parents, all we can do is trust our gut, hope the wheel turns in our favor and remind ourselves that, in the end, it's our job to keep therapists in business.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.