By the 12th grade, more than 65 percent of teens have at least experimented with alcohol. For the most part, a teen's decision to take that first drink is influenced by his friends. But parents play a role in how often and how responsibly kids continue to drink in their formative years.
Two studies have emerged in the past few months that shed new light on the influence of parenting style on a teen's drinking behavior.
Alcohol researcher Caitlin Abar from Pennsylvania State University studied how parents regulate their high school-age children regarding alcohol use
while still at home, and she then checked back on the teens after their first semester of college. Her study of 300 teenagers and their parents, published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, found that parents who have a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking tended to have teens who engaged in less drinking and less binge drinking once the teens were in college.
Conversely, the parents who are more relaxed about teens drinking in high school were more likely to have children who engaged in more drinking and more risky drinking behaviors in college. Of course, another huge influence on a teen's future alcohol use was her parents' drinking behavior.
This goes against a recent trend in parenting that follows what is referred to by researchers as the "European drinking model." Many parents look at kids in Europe who are allowed to drink alcohol at the family table, believing that if they let their kids drink at home, they are teaching responsible drinking behavior. But in actuality, researchers have found that the more teenagers drink at home, the more they will drink at other places, and the higher risk the kids will face for problematic alcohol use in the years to come. In fact, a recent survey of 15- and 16-year-olds throughout Europe finds that the majority of European countries have a higher rate of teen drunkenness than the U.S.
So, should parents be as strict as possible with kids to deter irresponsible drinking? Not quite. According to another recent study, teenagers who grow up with parents who are either too strict or too indulgent tend to binge drink more than their peers.
Researchers at Brigham Young University surveyed 5,000 seventh- to 12th-grade students regarding their parents' rules and their own alcohol use
. They found that the teens who were being raised by so-called "indulgent parents" (defined as parents who give kids lots of praise and little to no rules or consequences) were among the biggest abusers of alcohol — about three times more likely to participate in heavy drinking than their peers.
But kids who were raised by overly strict parents didn't fare much better. Kids whose parents were so strict that no decision was left to the teenager's own judgment were more than twice as likely to binge drink.
The parenting style that led to the lowest levels of problem drinking tended to be more balanced, offering kids lots of praise and support for good behavior as well as accountability and consequences for bad behavior. And that includes a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking.
What are you thoughts on these two studies? Do you think kids should be allowed to drink at home? Does this teach responsible drinking behavior or lead to problematic consequences?