Don’t be your teenager’s ‘drinking buddy’, says study

Parents who allow their teenagers to drink alcohol while supervised may be creating more drinking-related consequences for their teens down the track.

This was the finding from a recent study of Australian and American teenagers, surveyed over three years from Year 7 to Year 9. The study also challenged the theory that teens will learn to be responsible drinkers if they drink under adult supervision.

“Kids need parents to be parents and not drinking buddies,” said the study’s lead researcher, Dr Barbara J McMorris.

The study’s report, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs (JSAD), outlines two common parenting approaches towards teen drinking:

  1. Parents who allow their teenagers to consume alcohol in small amounts on occasion if an adult is present. Parents who take this approach may believe their child will learn to drink responsibly if introduced to alcohol slowly in a controlled environment.
  2. ‘Zero tolerance’, meaning that teen drinking is not allowed under any circumstances.

The report suggests the first approach is more common in Australia, with the stricter approach being more common in the US.

By Year 8, about 67% of youths surveyed from Victoria in Australia had consumed alcohol with an adult present, compared with just 35% of in the teens surveyed in Washington State, US.

Regardless of country, the teenagers who were allowed to drink with an adult present had increased levels of alcohol use and were more likely to have experienced harmful consequences – such as not being able to stop drinking, getting into fights, or having blackouts – by Year 9.

The researchers suggest that allowing teens to drink while adults were present may act to encourage underage drinking, and that parents should adopt a ‘no-use’ policy for young adolescents.

“Kids need black and white messages early on,” said Dr McMorris. “Such messages will help reinforce limits as teens get older and opportunities to drink increase.”

In a related study in the same issue of JSAD, researchers from The Netherlands found that the amount of alcohol parents themselves drank was not a factor in teen drinking. Their study of 12 to 15 year olds found that the only parenting factor related to teen drinking was the amount of alcohol available in the home, suggesting that parents should make sure alcohol was inaccessible to teens.

“Both studies show that parents matter,” Dr McMorris concludes. “Despite the fact that peers and friends become important influences as adolescents get older, parents still have a big impact.”

What do you think about supervising your teenager’s drinking? Please leave a comment below.

 

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