Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Drinking Practices

Emerging research finds parenting practices and restrictions when it comes to alcohol use can significantly influence adolescent drinking behaviors.

University of Buffalo psychologist Craig Colder discovered consistent and sustained parental attitudes can make a difference in a child’s use of alcohol.

This study, however, shows that those same parents who communicate the risks of alcohol use with their young children are often less likely to continue those discussions as their kids get older.

“This finding suggests that parents shouldn’t underestimate the impact of maintaining that messaging as their children move through adolescence,” says Colder.

His study, “A latent growth curve analysis of alcohol-use specific parenting and adolescent alcohol use,” has been published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

Colder says a parent’s attitude affects a kid’s attitude, and subsequently drinking in general.

“What our data is suggesting is that you can’t control all of your kids’ decisions, but you can help them to make good choices in situations where alcohol is available,” said Colder.

“You want kids to think about and reflect upon the pros and cons of drinking based on your previous discussions.”

Most of the literature on adolescent alcohol use has been driven by the kinds of attitudes that predict drinking, but little work has been done on how these attitudes form.

That was the genesis for this project, according to Colder. “We wanted to understand how kids’ attitudes develop.”

Though evidence shows that restrictive household rules against alcohol use discourage children from drinking, parents tend to shift those rules over time, along with the attitudes they project to their kids about drinking.

The rules slacken as children get older; the consequences of breaking those rules become less severe; and parents spend less time with their kids discussing alcohol use and its associated dangers.

“We found a correlation between the shifting of those three aspects of parenting and increases in alcohol use,” said Colder. “The more rapid those declines, the more rapid the increase in the onset of alcohol use.”

During the study, parents and adolescents were assessed on three occasions. For the first assessment, subjects were 10- or 11-years-old, an age before most kids initiate drinking. Researchers asked questions about drinking and the family environment. One year later, the subjects were interviewed again, and then interviewed a third time after another year had passed.

Although the study did not assess cause and effect, the correlational technique eliminates parental manipulation and allows the observation of events in a naturalistic environment.

“We’re just observing two things that happen over time and determining if they’re related to each other And these two things are related.”

Source: University of Buffalo

Mother talking with teenager photo by shutterstock.