Parents Can Prevent Underage Drinking, Studies Find

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Parents Can Prevent Underage Drinking, Studies Find

According to a recent study, parents who provide a warm and supportive environment reduced the chances that their children would engage in underage drinking or young adult binge drinking. This environment is defined by parenting style, drinking frequency, and parental expectations for the children.

Another study revealed that a home-based educational program about alcohol prevention can benefit both parents and children. When the home-based prevention program was given by parents to their elementary school children, the children were less likely to drink 4 years after the program was initiated.

Both studies were published in the July issue of Prevention Science.

And unfortunately, teenage drinking is quite common. According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 1 in 6 youth engage in underage drinking before turning 13. And roughly the same proportion of high school students have engaged in binge drinking. In general, about 1/3 of teenagers drink.

The good news is that it’s down from about 1/2 of teenagers 25 years ago. However, it’s still a serious problem.

While it’s normal for teenagers to experiment with psychoactive substances, it is critical that parents do not condone or enable their behavior. The messages that parents send to children about alcohol use can affect future drinking habits.

Perhaps due to immature brain development and increased impulsivity, when teenagers drink, they tend to do so in excess (binge drinking). Also, limited access to alcohol may increase the likelihood that teens will indulge. This behavior puts them at a tremendous risk for accidents, injuries, and violence.

The Parenting Study

teens3In the first study, researchers from Claremont Graduate University analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health.

In this survey, a group of 9,400 adolescents and their parents were interviewed 4 times. The first began in the 1994/95 school year, when participants were in 7th-12th grade. The latest survey took place in 2008, when participants were 24-32 years of age.

In the project’s first year, parents were also interviewed. The researchers targeted 4 factors from the first year.

  • Parental monitoring of teens
  • Warmth expressed to teens by parents
  • Frequency of parental drinking
  • Whether or not parents believe there children were already drinking

In the initial interview, teenagers answered questions about parental monitoring and support, while parents responded to questions about drinking and expectations.

Subsequent surveys questioned teens and young adults about binge drinking and incarceration rates.

The study found that teens whose parents monitored them poorly and/or did not provide a supportive home environment were more inclined to binge drink. These parental habits, in addition to the presence of underage drinking, predicted binge drinking and higher arrest rates as young adults.

The study also revealed that parents who drink frequently were predictive of teen and young adult binge drinking. And finally, adolescents were more apt to be drinking if their parents had expected them to be drinking. This may be due to a self-fulfilling prophecy, of sorts, having to do with the lack of parental intervention.

The Home-Based Program Study

teens4In the second study, researchers at RTI International and The University of North Carolina described the results of a home-based program intended to address parental misconception about children and alcohol, as well as foster communication and rule-setting regarding alcohol

In the study, a researcher notes that a child’s first alcohol sample is often a drink supplied by the parent. This may contribute to the child feeling as if the parent is condoning alcohol use.

This event also increases the likelihood that the child will engage in underage drinking.

Another indicator of future underage drinking is the teen’s perception of alcohol use. For example, thinking that drinking makes you cool or more popular.

The home-based program was designed to offer alternative ideas, and to assist parents in facilitating discussion about harmful consequences of alcohol use. It also sought to give children the tools necessary to reject social pressures.

In the study, over 3,000 third-grade children and their mothers were divided into two groups. One family received a 5-month long alcohol prevention program, and the other family was given an obesity prevention program. Materials provided included written materials, games, and role-playing activities.

The children were asked question about their perceptions regarding alcohol use before the program began. Mothers were also asked how often either parent drink alcohol, as well as the mother’s ethnic/racial identity and education. In year 2 and 3 of the study, families also were given a 30-day booster program.

Four years after the program’s initiation, researchers asked the children once again about their attitudes toward drinking alcohol.

Third-grade children who received the alcohol prevention program were much less likely to be drinking at the 4-year follow-up than those who participated in the obesity prevention program. And this remained true, regardless of parental drinking habits reported or the mother’s education.


teens2These finding show how integral parental roles are in shaping children’s ideas about alcohol and substance use.

It is critically important that parents provide a supportive, communicative environment in which dialogue about the dangers of alcohol and underage drinking flows freely.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology


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