Mixed Messages From Parents & Teenage Drinking
How many parents have encouraged their teenage kids to drink at home believing that in doing so it is reducing the risk of their teen engaging in harmful use of alcohol? I know my parents did and I’ve known many parents of teenagers since who have done the same.
The logic seems sound – by letting teens drink in moderation at home it takes away the illicit and rebellious associations, and encourages sensible drinking behaviour.
Research however suggests the aforementioned logic may not be so sound after all.
Drinking on Two Continents
A recent study conducted in Australia and the US sought to compare the outcomes of two differing attitudes towards teenage drinking. The predominant Australian attitude, of parents allowing their adolescent children to consume alcohol in small amounts on occasion if an adult is present, was compared with the attitude “zero tolerance” for youth drinking which is more prevalent in the US , where teens are often not allowed to drink alcohol under any circumstances.
To test how these different approaches are related to teen drinking researchers from the Centre for Adolescent Health in Melbourne, Australia, and the Social Development Research Group in Seattle surveyed more than 1,900 seventh graders. About half were from Victoria, Australia; the rest were from Washington State. From seventh to ninth grade, investigators asked the youths about such factors as alcohol use, problems they had as a result of alcohol consumption, and how often had they consumed alcohol with an adult present.
By eighth grade, about 67% of Victorian youths had consumed alcohol with an adult present, as did 35% of those in Washington State, reflecting general cultural attitudes. In ninth grade, 36% of Australian teens compared with 21% of American teens had experienced alcohol-related consequences, such as not being able to stop drinking, getting into fights, or having blackouts. However, regardless of whether they were from Australia or the United States, youths who were allowed to drink with an adult present had increased levels of alcohol use and were more likely to have experienced harmful consequences by the ninth grade.
The researchers suggest that allowing adolescents to drink with adults present may act to encourage alcohol consumption. According to the authors, their results suggest that parents adopt a “no-use” policy for young adolescents. “Kids need black and white messages early on,” says the study’s lead researcher Barbara J. McMorris. “Such messages will help reinforce limits as teens get older and opportunities to drink increase.”
Allowing adolescents to drink with adults present but not when unsupervised may send mixed signals. “Kids need parents to be parents and not drinking buddies,” Dr McMorris said. “Adults need to be clear about what messages they are sending.”
The study published in the the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, supports findings of previous research along the same lines. In a study of 428 Dutch families, researchers found that the more teenagers were allowed to drink at home, the more they drank outside of home as well. What’s more, teens who drank under their parents’ watch or on their own had an elevated risk of developing alcohol-related problems.
These are not isolated studies, we have commented on the connections between teenage alcohol consumption and parenting previously on this blog.
What are your thoughts on allowing teenagers to drink alcohol at home? Is it something you do with your teenagers? Do you think it makes a difference?
I’d be interested to know people’s differing experiences in relation to this, so please leave share you view in the comments section below.
Image by Xificurk