A parent’s nightmare is to safely usher their children through the elementary years, into pre-adolescence, only to have your teenager (or preteen) become a raging and clownish drunkard (or worse). Many parents will go to great lengths to try to buffer their children from the temptations of the bottle (or can) and keep them dry, at least until their 21st birthday. But regardless of their most enduring efforts, some children and teens are easily seduced by the allure and promise of alcohol, and begin drinking recreationally at an early age. Whether this results in teenage alcoholism or just some unsightly stains on the bathroom rug, underage drinking is serious business, and the majority of concerned parents will pull out the stops to keep their children on the wagon.
Now comes a study about underage drinking and what effect, if any, a parent holds over their childrens decision to drink up. Brigham Young University (appropriately enough a Mormon university would sanction this particular morality study) researchers surveyed nearly 5,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 about their drinking habits and their relationship with their parents, and their findings revealed some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that, despite parent’s best efforts, of the children surveyed, they were just as likely to try alcohol regardless of their parents diligence and approach. The good news is that (again, of the children surveyed) parents, while not being able to altogether stop their children from sampling the forbidden fruit, can greatly impact whether that drinking becomes problematic in the long run.
A key point of this study involved the ideas of “accountability,” which evaluated the parents involvement in their children’s lives (knowing where they were, who their friends were, etc), and the degree of “warmth” (or regard) in which the parents engaged with their children on all subjects. According to the report:
• The teens least prone to heavy drinking had parents who scored high on both accountability and warmth.
• So-called “indulgent” parents, those low on accountability and high on warmth, nearly tripled the risk of their teen participating in heavy drinking.
• “Strict” parents – high on accountability and low on warmth – more than doubled their teen’s risk of heavy drinking.
So what we could gather from this information is that parents, that are both accountable and lovingly supportive in their relationship with their children, may not be able to keep their children totally dry, but more than likely will keep them out of the drunk tank (Interestingly enough, statistical analysis also showed that religious teens were significantly less likely to drink any alcohol – score one for BYU). While there remain countless variables that will ultimately determine whether or not a child develops a drinking problem, is it fair to assume that parents have this much sway over their children when it comes to underage drinking? In your experience, what can parents do to affect their children’s decisions when it comes to indulging, or indulging to the extent of self-destruction (not all underage drinkers are binge drinkers)? Or as a teenager, with some experience under your belt, what are your parents doing right, or horribly wrong when dealing with the subject?