It turns out that parents and rules really do matter.
Alcohol researcher Caitlin Abar from Pennsylvania State University says that how parents deal with teenagers when it comes to alcohol makes a difference.
Her study, as reported by NPR, included 300 teenagers and their parents and found that parents who disapproved of teen alcohol use completely tended to have students who drank less once in college. Teens who have more permissive parents when it comes to teenage drinking had a higher risk factor for later binge drinking.
The drinking patterns of the parents also played a part in a teen’s later alcohol use. How much we drink and how we drink has a direct impact on how our teens think about alcohol. They are not only listening… they are watching.
Contrary to what many parents think, allowing teens to drink limited amounts of alcohol at home under parental supervision is not as strong a deterrent as a zero tolerance policy. It is merely the illusion of control. Studies of teens in Europe, where they routinely drink in the home, show the more teens drink at home the more they will drink elsewhere. The rate of teen drinking is higher in Europe than in the United States.
The strongest message to adolescents comes from the rules parents set down regarding underage drinking. Monitoring exactly what teens are doing and with whom also discourages overindulging in alcohol later when they are college age.
Teens often don’t appear to be paying attention, but our values and expectations are getting through. A zero tolerance policy is no guarantee that a child won’t drink — but it is definitely worth the effort.
Alcohol is known to have a toxic effect on young brains. The parts of the brain that control judgement, critical thinking, and memory don’t even mature until we are in our mid twenties, and alcohol can cause heavy damage to those regions. Studies of teens who indulge in binge drinking show abnormalities in the brain’s white matter. Continued binge drinking can result in cognitive difficulties. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, binge drinking generally peaks in young adulthood (age 18 to 22).
It begins with parents. We already knew it, but it’s worth repeating… parents matter.
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Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to bradleypjohnson