Parents Teaching Teens “Responsible Drinking” is a Myth: Study

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Parents who provide their teens with alcohol and a place to consume it may think they are teaching their children “responsible drinking.” A new review of studies concludes this view is misguided. Researchers found parental provision of alcohol is associated with increased teen alcohol use.

In some cases, parental provision of alcohol is also linked with increased heavy episodic drinking and higher rates of alcohol-related problems, the researchers report in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

“We suspect there is a surprising amount of ‘social hosting’ going on—parents providing alcohol for their teens and their friends,” said study co-author Ken C. Winters, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota Medical School. “Parents probably aren’t aware that social hosting could have criminal implications in some states if things take a bad turn. I can appreciate that social hosting is often done with good intentions. Parents think they are preventing something worse by having their kids drink at home with their friends. But the risks are great.”

Senior author Dr. Övgü Kaynak and her co-authors reviewed 22 studies that examined the association between parental provision of alcohol and teen drinking. Based on their findings, they recommend that parents discourage drinking until their children reach the legal drinking age of 21.

Parents influence their children’s risk for alcohol use in both direct and indirect ways, Winters notes. Indirectly, parents can influence their teens’ behavior by failing to monitor their activities while their child still lives at home, having permissive attitudes toward underage drinking, expressing direct approval of underage drinking, or simply by providing unguarded access to alcohol at home.

More direct ways of influencing teens’ drinking behavior include offering to buy alcohol for them, supplying alcohol for a teen party, or allowing their teen to drink at home, either supervised or unsupervised.

“The most worrisome things parents can do are to model poor behavior by drinking excessively in front of their teens, and to provide alcohol to their teens,” Winters said. “I’m not talking giving about a sip of alcohol or an occasional glass of an alcoholic beverage with a meal for an older teenager. I’m referring to parents who host a drinking party and provide alcohol, thinking they will be able to make it safe. It creates more problems than it solves.”

The researchers say there is little research to support the notion that it is possible to “teach” children to drink alcohol responsibly. They write their review “suggests that by allowing alcohol use at a young age, parents might increase the risk for progression toward unsupervised drinking more rapidly than it would otherwise have been.” Allowing teens to drink may instill a sense of comfort in alcohol use, which could increase their tendency to drink, with or without their parents present.

Parents may be giving their teens subtle messages about drinking without even realizing it, Winters notes. For instance, they may not take the opportunity to say something negative about underage drinking if they see it in a movie or TV show they are watching with their teen.

The researchers said they want parents to understand that allowing teens to drink underage, even when supervised by the parent, is always associated with a greater likelihood of drinking during adolescence over time. Social hosting is never a good idea, they emphasize. “Adolescents who attend parties where parents supply alcohol are at increased risk for heavy episodic drinking, alcohol-related problems, and drinking and driving,” they wrote.


18 Responses

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    Edward Spellman

    October 8, 2015 at 10:15 PM

    I see so many people talking all about either being “raised right” or making sure their kids are, and then immediately say how either they were sheltered from things, or how they’re sheltering their kids from things, or most frequently, both.

    Like it or not, just because someone gets “raised right” doesn’t mean that they’ll be a goody-goody, especially when nobody’s watching and there’s noone to report them. This kind of sheltering leads to two problems. The first is creating the mentality of it’s only wrong if they get caught, because if they do something they are technically forbidden, enjoy it, and don’t get caught, not only did they flaunt a rule, but they had a good time, so therefore, it’s okay and fun to break the rules stealthily. The second problem is releasing kids out into the world who have no idea how to cope with all kinds of things. Think of it like this, if they don’t learn it from you in a controlled environment in a safe way, from whom and where and how are they going to learn it? Kids need to know how to deal with things that they are inevitably going to be faced with, even if they encounter them long before they’re technically allowed to make a choice.

    Like it or not, it’s inevitable your kid is going to grow up and run into alcohol. Suppose they don’t know what to do or how to handle it because either they haven’t been taught at all, or they’ve been given bad information. That’s a recipe for disaster. The no booze before 21 will make them safe thing is patently moronic; nobody is going to actually hold to that, and if you never let them have something all their life and make it forbidden, the moment they get a chance to get at it, they’re going to go overboard. Hello, horrible hangovers, embarrassing episodes, and ambulance adventures. But, if you teach them how to deal with drinking alcohol like responsible adults and get them educated well before they get to full strength youth drinking culture, the lure of the forbidden fruit will be gone and they’ll be able to take care of not just themselves, but others, too.

    I know how people are going to react. I’m going to get lambasted for promoting underage drinking, I’ll be told that I wasn’t “raised right”, and so on. Believe me, I was “raised right” in a suburban Christian home by a very happy marriage of a white collar working father and a housewife mother, both of whom did everything right and were very loving. That didn’t stop me from deciding when I was nineteen that what I wanted most in the world was to pick a rifle and catch a flight to Africa to be a soldier of fortune. I became a hard-drinking, gunfighting, whoremongering freelance mercenary, and I got paid damn well for it, too. $400 a week in 1983 to go on adventures, shoot guns, drink like crazy, fornicate as often as possible, do all kinds of badass stunts, and generally do as I damn well pleased. I learned a lot about life, the world, and myself during those six wonderfully mad years.

    I saw the Africans and realized that when all the ugly realities of life can happen to you or your children, you can’t just minimize or ignore things; you have to teach how to cope and survive. And that’s why I’m going to make sure my kids don’t have to go to the school of hard knocks quite as viciously as I did. Unlike my parents, I’ll make sure they get an education of not just book smarts, but street smarts, to know how to drink properly, how to negotiate, how to not get screwed, how to pick their battles, how to fight, how to shoot, how to plan for contingencies, how to talk people down, how to lead men, how to be tough, and how to be safe with girls. By raising kids to be prepared, they’ll be able to deal with things instead of getting in way over their head before they even realize what’s going on, whether that means accidentally ticking off some warlord’s thugs or getting caught up in downing vodka by the shot, because we won’t always be there to help them out.

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    Concerned mother of three

    January 10, 2015 at 11:11 AM

    22 studies is more than enough to confirm what I know to be true. As a mother, I wanted to ensure my children avoided risks that will possibly endanger their lives. Deliberately introducing alcohol into their lives is foolhardy, (or letting them be out late unsupervised) they cannot possibly deal with this powerful substance when they are not even an adult. It’s simply too dangerous. I have seen how they have become much better judgement skills and able to think independently after 21 years old than 15! So I told them they could make those decisions on their own once they are old enough but not as teens when they often struggle to master basic skills such as identifying good relationships, strong emotions, negative peer pressure, bullying etc. The reality is they are just not ready to handle drugs or alcohol on top of everything else. Yes it was harder and ver inconvenient for me as a parent to keep them safe at home at that age, I willingly gave up my freedom to be home weekend evenings to ensure drinking didn’t take place. I also restricted where my children could spend their time overnight to prevent unsupervised exposture to alcohol. That was a choice I made as a parent. Same as I didn’t let them play in the traffic before they had the skills to be outside alone to cross the street-age appropriate supervision.

    I was exposed to alcohol too young and drinking to get drunk was the teen norm, social drinking at this age is never just one or two drinks, I’m not naive enough to think that’s changed today.

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    January 9, 2015 at 9:34 AM

    Here it here it first ONE STUDY TELLS THE WHOLE STORY. When are we going to learn that science is a conglomerate of a number of studies. Not of one study. Research design and the ability of critiquing all studies leads to conclusive evidence. God, when are we going to learn.

    There is no whole study reported, only the abstract. Well, that make sense given that most clinicians for the most part that is all they read and then think they can analyze the data. Download the article for $27.00 when a copy of a journal probably cost more or less the same.

    What does it says “There have been conflicting findings in the literature concerning the risks to adolescents when parents provide them with alcohol.”….. oh yea, and this sole abstract is going to tell us the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

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    Kathy Miller

    January 6, 2015 at 11:26 AM

    I was glad to read this article because it provides support for what I have long believed and what we attempted to practice at home with our daughter (who is now 24 and a social drinker). I drink occasionally and my husband does not drink at all. When our daughter was growing up, we did not allow her to drink in our home until she was 21. We stated explicitly in many, many conversations from the time she was young that the use of alcohol for those under 21 was against our family rules. After her Bat Mitzvah at age 13 we did permit her to have a sip of wine as part of religious practice at our temple. We also discussed openly the fact that both sides of our family had instances of alcoholism and substance abuse and the harmful consequences of those diseases. When our daughter was a teen, I was a member of a local coalition that attempted to raise awareness among parents about the dangers of underage alcohol/drug use. We were not naive enough to think that our daughter would never drink or that she would never drink when she got to college. Among her group of friends they designate someone who has agreed NOT to drink if/when they go out to dinner or to a bar in the evening. Someone else mentioned that Europeans handle alcohol differently than we do, implying that they “do” thing better. My daughter lived in France for a semester when she was 21 and is living there again this year. She found that her French counterparts drank more and were more likely to “get wasted” than her American friends in general. Maybe we were just lucky that we raised a daughter who developed into a person who drinks in moderation and without apparent problems, however I believe our modeling and explicit limits and conversation helped.

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    January 6, 2015 at 10:14 AM

    It is the habit of my wife and I to have a beer or 1 – 2 glasses of wine with dinner. As each of our three children reached age 14, they were invited to join us but with a reduced amount–a misdemeanor under state law. That was our only drinking and the only drinking by our children expressly permitted. We never ever supplied alcohol at parties or allowed any consumption that was not part of a meal and never offered alcohol to their friends even at meals.

    All three drank while under 21 years of age. Two of our children would occasionally imbibe and both have grown up as infrequent social drinkers who have a taste for quality beers and wines–one got pretty good at home brewing. The middle child was the more frequent drinker and would consume with his high school friends. He is now a daily drinker, but in moderation. I could always tell what his evening plans were by whether or not he grabbed a beer to go with dinner. If he drank a beer, a friend would show up and drive that night. If he did not drink, he would take his car and be the driver. So if done right, you can teach responsibility, but part of that is demonstrating your own responsibility towards drinking.

    Conversely, we don’t smoke and our children don’t smoke. Yet many of my children’s friends became smokers although their parents expressly banned it. One of my children had nearly everyone in his circle of friends smoking and I don’t know how he avoided picking it up. One friend at age 12 got a package of info from the ACS to give to his smoking grandmother and then by age 16 was smoking at least a half pack a day.

    My guess is that parents who drink a lot will have children who do the same. No surprise there.

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