A new study from the University of Minnesota has some results that may discourage parents from allowing their teenage children to drink, even while supervised. Researcher Barbara McMorris, the lead author of the study, concluded that even teens who were allowed to have a moderate amount of alcohol on holidays or during meals were more likely to have drinking problems several years later.
Writing for Time‘s health blog, Peter Dazeley explains that these findings contradict a popular school of thought on teens and alcohol, “where adults allow their children to drink a little in their presence, and where alcoholism rates are no different from those in countries where underage drinking is illegal. By incorporating alcohol into youngsters’ lives from an early age, and not making it a forbidden fruit, they argue, teens are less likely to abuse it as adults.”
McMorris’ study compared 7th-graders from Australia, where underage supervised drinking is permitted, and the United States, where it is not. By the 9th grade, “36% of the Australian teens had problems with binge drinking or other alcohol-related issues such as getting in fights and having blackouts, while only 21% of the American adolescents did.”
So when parents think they’re teaching their teens responsible drinking habits, are they just telling them that drinking is permissible, even when it’s irresponsible? McMorris says that drinking in the home doesn’t help teens manage their tolerance, it simply encourages them to start drinking earlier.
“If a parent or adult introduces a child to alcohol, it sends a message about how to drink in that type of social setting,” she said. “But that message doesn’t translate to the unsupervised setting, so teens won’t necessarily know how to cut themselves off after one drink when they are out with friends. There isn’t a carryover effect.”
I have to say, I’m skeptical of this study; there are so many other factors involved in teen drinking (age, socioeconomic status, and gender, to name just a few) that it seems extremely difficult to determine whether parents allowing teens to drink in the home can be isolated as the sole factor. Parents should teach their children how to make responsible decision-making, but how they do so is contingent on a wide variety of factors – and encouraging total abstinence from alcohol in the home may not make very much of a difference. Maybe another answer is to teach parents how to talk to their teens about alcohol, or better educate teens about alcohol use and abuse in schools.
Photo from Opencage.net.