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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    December 6, 2014 at 3:32 PM

    What is going to happen when your child goes to college? Are they going to be good and wait until they’re 21? If so, what’s going to happen then? What happens when your inexperienced child takes a drink and likes it? There will be no restraint and no experience, and you’ll be holding onto the hope that you have for your child and that they have learned what you haven’t taught them about alcohol use. You’ll hope that they are controlling themselves, but chances say that they’re already addicted within a month, and then you’ll be supporting them and there problem for the rest of your life.

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    Sam Enginyu

    October 28, 2014 at 11:44 AM

    The practice of a parent providing a peaceful environment for their children or young people to drink opens the way for future alcohol abuse. This requires parents to take a serious caution before blessing the practice. The best way is to provide them with information or messages that highlight the risks associated with drinking and also provide them with fear appeal messages that discourage the practice

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    Janet Terry

    October 16, 2014 at 1:15 PM

    Agreed. Read the studies and put down your denial and defenses and “it worked fine in my day” tendencies. We do not have a European culture and even if we did, addiction and alcoholism exist in that culture too. The adolescent brain does not do well exposed to alcohol and drugs. Teach your children well….The longer kids wait to use the better. Maybe they will end up choosing not to use at all…. Be a parent, not a friend….

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    John de Miranda

    October 14, 2014 at 7:19 PM

    So, to summarize, if I understand this brief report the advice to parents is to do nothing that could be construed to be “teaching” about alcohol use, and actively discourage their children from drinking until they reach the legal age of 21. Really? That’s it? What’s your advice about teens having sex?

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    Ivana @ Addiction Blog

    October 13, 2014 at 4:47 AM

    This text has left me without words! I’ve always known that it was strong prohibition that sparked curiosity and increased the chances for substance abuse in youth and teens. It’s one thing being open and educational about drinking, but it’s totally different to say that some parents enable their kids to drink. Wouldn’t you say it’s better for them to taste a drink first at home, where it’s safe?! European cultures have been doing this for generations; for centuries. Isn’t it better to have an open conversation and talk about the risks and dangers?! If we don’t talk to our kids, the media and peers will…

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