Study: Parents Shouldn’t Allow their Teens to Drink, Even with Adult Supervision

Contrary to popular belief, allowing adolescents to drink alcohol under adult supervision does not teach them responsible drinking as they get older. In fact, this may actually lead to more drinking and alcohol-related problems later in life, according to a new study led by Barbara J. McMorris, Ph.D., of the School of Nursing at the University of Minnesota.

McMorris said that kids need parents to be parents, not drinking buddies, and that allowing kids to drink alcohol in certain situations (such as when adults are present) may send mixed signals. She added that adults need to be clear about the messages they send their children.

Many parents allow their children to drink small amounts of alcohol on occasion if a parent is present, believing that children will learn to drink responsibly if they are introduced to alcohol slowly in a safe environment. This approach is common in many countries, including Australia. Other parents have a “zero-tolerance” policy, where teens are not allowed to drink alcohol in any situation. This approach tends to be more popular in the United States, with laws and policies often advocating “zero tolerance” when it comes to alcohol and minors.

McMorris and colleagues from the Centre for Adolescent Health in Melbourne, Australia, and the Social Development Research Group in Seattle, Washington, wanted to test the effectiveness of these different approaches. They surveyed more than 1,900 seventh-grade students; half were from Victoria, Australia, and half from Washington State.

From seventh to ninth grade, the students were asked about their alcohol use, alcohol-related problems, and how often they drank alcohol in the presence of a parent or adult.
About 67 percent of students from Victoria said they had consumed alcohol with an adult present by eighth grade, compared to 35 percent of those from Seattle.

By ninth grade, 36 percent of Australian teens had experienced alcohol-related problems (such as not being able to stop drinking, getting in fights, or blacking out), compared to 21 percent of American teens.

Regardless of where they lived, those who drank with their parents had increased levels of alcohol use and were more likely to experience alcohol-related problems by ninth grade.

This suggests that allowing teens to drink, even with adult supervision, encourages alcohol consumption in other situations. The researchers concluded that parents should adopt a “zero-tolerance” policy so that they don’t receive mixed messages regarding alcohol. McMorris added that clear messages will help teens set limits as they get older and alcohol becomes more widely available.

A separate study from the Netherlands found that among 500 12- to 15-year olds, the only parenting factor related to teen drinking was the amount of alcohol kept in the home. This suggests that parents should keep alcohol in a place that is not accessible to teens.

McMannis said that both studies send the message that parents have a major impact on their children’s lives, despite the influence of peers.

Source: Science Daily, Adult-Supervised Drinking in Young Teens May Lead to More Alcohol Use, Consequences, April 28, 2011

Posted on April 28th, 2011
Posted in Teens

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