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Underage Drinking: Parenting Style Makes a Difference

Parenting style can affect whether or not your teen will binge drink.

During the holidays, many of us drink more alcohol than we normally do. Each year, I mentally prepare myself for the excess which I know comes hand in hand with December. It’s best for me (not to mention for my family) if I don’t get too carried away while enjoying all the merriment the season has to offer. Thankfully, I’ve been a pretty good boy, but that doesn’t mean I’ve not had a drink or two. In fact, my wife and I have had many gatherings at our house, so not only have I had the occasional cocktail or glass of wine, but I’ve also had them in front of my kids.

I recently wondered what message, if any, I was sending. It goes without saying that I would never drink to the point of intoxication in front of my children, but does socially drinking in front of them increase the odds that they will try alcohol in their teenage years?

No. Socially drinking in front of your kids does not increase the likelihood of your teen experimenting with alcohol. At least according to an interesting NPR article I read yesterday. For teenagers, peer group plays the largest role in whether or not they will experiment with alcohol. And by the 12th grade, 65% of teens have at least tried it.

But that doesn’t mean that parenting doesn’t play a role in the process. Research conducted by Brigham Young University found that teens who have parents who are either too strict or too lax are far more likely to engage in binge drinking. Dr. Stephen Bahr, a professor of sociology at BYU, had the following to say about the study he authored: “While parents didn’t have much of an effect on whether their teens tried alcohol, they can have a significant impact on the more dangerous type of drinking.”

This according to information his team gathered from 5,000 teenagers. The teens were asked if they had consumed five or more drinks in a row during the previous two weeks. Such behavior is considered binge drinking. The teens were also asked about their parents. Do they check up on them? Do they set curfews? Do they know their children’s whereabouts during the weekends?

Teens raised by “indulgent” parents, “who tend to give their children lots of praise and warmth but offer little in the way of consequences or monitoring of bad behavior,” were among the biggest abusers of alcohol—three times more likely to engage in heavy drinking. Those parents on the other end of the spectrum? The ones who monitor their child’s every action? Their kids didn’t fare much better. They were twice as likely to engage in heavy drinking, despite the parental micromanagement.

The parenting style that led to the lowest incidence of binge drinking was somewhere between those two extremes. These parents provide a lot of love, warmth and support for their kids, but also hold them accountable for their behavior. Such parents don’t require their children to inform them of every single move they make, but they do tend to be involved with their children’s lives and are not afraid to set curfews.

While it seems like common sense, the article is a good reminder that as parents we can’t control everything. In fact, if we try, we are likely to have the opposite effect of the one we intended. But we can’t just bury our heads in the sand, either.

One key thing the article suggests is to talk to your kids about drinking before they reach their teenage years. Aimee Stern, who has written a book on delaying teens’ first drinks, recommends parents start the dialog as early as the fourth grade. Her book, which was published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is designed to help parents navigate the tricky maze that is alcohol use as it relates to their kids. It’s available here.

Certainly food for thought as we approach the new year.

Image: MorgueFile

John Cave Osborne’s personal blog.
John Cave Osborne’s book website.

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