Should Parents Not Allow Teens to Drink?

There is a new study out that suggests parents should practice zero-tolerance policy when it comes to teenagers and alcohol consumption. Researchers at Penn State University in the US claim that zero-tolerance does not contribute to alcohol becoming a “forbidden fruit” leading to drinking problems later in life.

For parents of teenagers it can be a confusing issue, when to allow our child to start drinking and how much should you expose them to alcohol? What makes the issue even more complex is the knowledge that a significant number of a teenager’s peers are avid participants in a widely accepted binge drinking culture.

The study in the US was conducted amongst first year college students and found that students who had little access to alcohol at home while growing up where significantly less likely to engage in heavy drinking at college.  The researchers were able to conclude that “the greater number of drinks that a parent had set as a limit for the teens, the more often they drank and got drunk in college.”

The research found that neither gender nor parental drinking habits played any determining role in students drinking behaviour at college.

So should parents not allow teens to drink?

My opinion is that on the basis of one relatively small study we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions, but it does give food for thought.

There has also been research suggesting it is not only how often parents provide alcohol to teenagers, but the context in which they provide it that shapes teenage drinking habits. A study in 2004 found that when parents provide alcohol for their teenager to take to a party, the teen is three times more likely to binge drink compared to teenagers who are provided alcohol to be consumed with their parents at home.

Of course parents who model and stress sensible habits and moderation will impact teenage behaviour in most areas of life.  What is important is that parents clearly educate their child about the dangers and effects associated with alcohol use.  Similarly parents should outline clear expectations they have for their teenager and alcohol use.  The laying down of clear boundaries is important to teenagers, but only effective when it is done in the form of a conversation that allows the teen to have input into the outcome.

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