How Parents Influence Underage Drinking

Group of friends in the car

Though three out of four teenagers will consume alcohol before graduating from high school, there is a way to keep your kids out of that boozy majority.  According to a recent study, your approach to parenting could make a difference in whether your teen engages in underage drinking.  Parents who find a way to be simultaneously strict and supportive are most likely to raise children who don’t engage in heavy drinking.

A pair of sociology professors from Brigham Young University assessed the “support (warmth, nurturance) and control (monitoring, discipline)” of the parents and classified their parenting into four categories: authoritarian, authoritative, indulgent, and neglectful.  Authoritarian parents are strict but not warm, indulgent parents are warm but not strict, while authoritative parents are both warm and yet set clear limits, and neglectful parents exhibit neither trait.  When it comes to preventing their teens from drinking, authoritative parents do best. Why? They may discuss alcohol with their children in a more open and honest way, while setting clear boundaries.

To obtain this data, the professors used questionnaires completed by teenaged students that included questions on a variety of topics including alcohol consumption and their parents’ behaviors.  From these same questionnaires, the researchers also determined that students with a strong religious upbringing are less likely to drink. Kids whose friends drink are more likely to try drinking, demonstrating the power of peer pressure.

The professors concede that there are some limitations to their study.  Firstly, since the teens were responsible for assessing their parents’ roles, it may contrast with their actual behavior.  Nonetheless, they note that “adolescent perceptions of parental behavior appear to be as important… as the actual behavior.”  Secondly, the figures cannot account for the advice and rules that the parents give their children directly pertaining to alcohol, which would clearly be an influential factor.

While you may find it difficult to parent in both a caring and disciplinary manner, it is imperative to find that authoritative balance in order to raise a child who withstands peer pressure.  You may not be able to prevent your children from encountering alcohol during their formative years, but you can nurture them in such a way that they will be less likely to give into temptation.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has resources and suggestions on how to talk to your kids about alcohol and making smart choices.

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