How to Control Teen Drinking: Parents Matter

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.

Related Reading

Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to bradleypjohnson


Past Member
Past Member 7 years ago

The reality is that the most teens are going to experiment with the drinking. The important thing is to accept this reality and give your child the skills to handle a situation in which alcohol is present. You want your son to develop good decision making abilities that he can use in a variety of situations. Parents have require to support the children. And take the action against if they are drinking. Alcohol abuse is a significant problem among the young people and a solution needs to be found. Drinking under age is really a bad thing for everyone.

Evangeline H.
Evangeline H.7 years ago

Hello, I am a 16-year old teenage girl. The problem of teen drinking is a worry to me as I am afraid my peers are also downing drinks in parties. I was glad to read that parents matter and are important in helping their drinking teens. I strongly believe that the way to prevent teen drinking is to trace the root problem and that parents/adults should also be involved in helping their teen. Most parents/adults are quick to judge drinking teens, but this does not occur to them. Every parent should be equip on how to deal with their drinking teens. I write for a website called We are a parenting blog written from a teen's perspective. We have an article that contains other reasons of why teens resort to drinking. It also includes the likelihood a teen is drinking. Feel free to check it out at:

Kay L.
KayL NOFORWARDS7 years ago

Re: " Studies of teens who indulge in binge drinking show abnormalities in the brain’s white matter."

I'm sure the same could be said for adult binge drinkers, too. Binge drinking is unhealthy, whatever the age!

I think the most important thing for teens is to see their parents and role models engage in moderate, appropriate drinking so that they can see responsibility in action....

Josie Eldred
Josie Eldred7 years ago

I don't necessarily agree, though I do think it is very individual. I think a lot of teenagers, given the freedom to make their own choices regarding alcohol, drugs, etc, will often choose not to use them. And I think the harsher parents are about restricting what their children do, the more likely their kids are to rebel.

I think the main thing is about giving your child the opportunity to do the right thing and to trust that they will. Obviously this isn't always going to work, but I do feel that teenagers aren't given enough credit when it comes to making good decisions for themselves.

I'm 19 and that's just my take on the issue after having observed friends and their parents.

Serena P.
Serena P7 years ago

I think we should go back to where colleges were there for education-not to be expensive day-care centers. It's time to go back to the old policies where if kids are failing college/constantly drinking then it's time to kick their lazy butts out and give other people a chance. Sorry it's a little off-topic, but I find it frustrating that college has become a joke (because they all see drinking as a necessity). I have been paying more attention to the drinking commercial ads these days and they are telling people more so than ever that you can't have fun without a drink, and I'm getting offended. Am I alone in this?

Rajee Seetharam
Rajee Seetharam7 years ago

Thanks for this post!

Jos� Mar�a Olmos Sant

thanks for sharing this


It's me again.. monopolizing the comment box again! Sorry! I wanted to add, that, it shouldn't be up to the parents alone, because some of the best parents in the world, have children with alcohol problems. There really is a need for there to be a totally different attitude taught towards drinking, taught in the schools. If children were taught right from the early grades that binge drinking is strictly for the mindless... you would eventually have a whole generation of children who had an entirely different attitude to such a lunatic pass-time!! If you reward young children for sensible behaviour, they are far more likely to continue to do that behaviour than just taking a hit and miss attitude that they MIGHT be okay... and then find they are not.... Whoops! I mean, whilst kids are drinking themselves into a stupour, they are just not caring about consequences, or even THINKING...That is why, I believe, the behaviour has to be targeted LONG before it starts! Hence it is necessary to be another oen of those life skills taught in the schools.


As a parent, all you do, is do your best! My children had an alcoholic father and saw what alcohol can do. I explained to them that there was a possibility that they COULD carry the gene for alcoholism. I NEVER drank and when, I finally had to leave my husband who had become very violent, I never had alcohol in the house and made friends with people who didn't drink. This meant that my children could socialize where, NOT drinking, was the social norm. If you are lucky enough to be a church-goer, then you have even more likelihood of your children finding activities with other kids who are used to having fun and NOT drinking. There is probably more likelihood that you can influence your kids NOT to drink if you have a really good relationship with them and they trust that what you say to them usually has some sense! You do have to make sure that your relationship with your children is close enough that they will not lie to you to please you, but will admit if they are drinking, in which case you have to tell them to check what alcohol is doing to them and if they are worried at all about becoming dependent, then, you really have to tell them that quitting altogether is their only hope and support them all the way. Hopefully you can encourage interest in sport or some sort of hobby which involves fitness, where they need to be alcohol free. When all this fails... well.. all you can do is pray frantically and be prepared to love them to bits and pick them up when they fall!

Jessie M.
Jessie M7 years ago

When i was a teen the stricter your parents were the more likely you were to disobey them! Giving teens a safe place to drink is a good idea.