A report published recently, Adult-Supervised Alcohol Use Doesn’t Teach Adolescents to Drink Responsibly, has found that supervised use is associated with more alcohol-related harmful consequences in teens.
“Kids need parents to be parents and not drinking buddies,” said the study’s lead researcher, Barbara J. McMorris, Ph.D., of the School of Nursing at the University of Minnesota.
The report explored the argument that giving parents an opportunity to teach their teenagers to drink responsibly would enable them to be mature and sensible when consuming alcohol as they got older.
To put this hypothesis to the test, 918 students in Washington State (which has a “zero-tolerance” underage drinking policy that emphasizes abstinence) and 908 students in Victoria, Australia (which has a “harm-minimization” underage drinking policy that emphasizes responsible drinking) were asked about their drinking experiences by completing an annual survey for 3 years.
Grade 7 – Family factors (i.e., family management, parental attitudes toward alcohol use, familial substance abuse) were assessed.
Grade 8 – Opportunities to use alcohol with adult supervision were assessed.
Grade 9 – Past-year alcohol use and harmful consequences associated with use (e.g., being unable to stop drinking, engaging in violence, having sexual encounters that were later regretted) were assessed.
Lifetime alcohol use was significantly greater in Victoria than in Washington State in the 1st survey (59% vs. 39%) and 3rd survey (71% vs. 45%). More students in Victoria reported adult-supervised alcohol use in the 2nd survey (66% vs. 35%) and any alcohol-related harms in the 3rd survey (36% vs. 21%).
Parental attitudes toward alcohol use were more favourable in Victoria. More U.S. students reported family substance abuse problems but higher levels of positive family management.
The results of the survey do not support the notion that parents can teach children how to drink responsibly by allowing them to drink with adult supervision. The more often a minor was allowed to drink alcohol under adult supervision, the more alcohol-related harmful incidences were reported in both countries.
Allowing adolescents to drink with adults present but not allowing them to drink when unsupervised may send mixed messages. “Adults need to be clear about what messages they are sending. Kids need black and white messages early on. Such messages will help reinforce limits as teens get older and opportunities to drink increase.” said McMorris.
The researchers suggest that allowing adolescents to drink with adults present may act to encourage alcohol consumption. According to the authors, their results suggest that parents adopt a “no-use” policy for teenagers.
A similar survey was conducted in The Netherlands with 500 teenagers between 12 and 15 years old. The findings showed “that perceived alcohol availability at home was the only parenting factor predicting an increase in alcohol intake and alcohol-related problems among adolescents 2 years later.”
The researchers agree that it is important to “set strict rules regarding alcohol use, particularly when a total absence of alcoholic drinks at home is not feasible.”*
“Both studies show that parents matter,” McMorris concludes. “Despite the fact that peers and friends become important influences as adolescents get older, parents still have a big impact.”
Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: McMorris BJ et al. Influence of family factors and supervised alcohol use on adolescent use and harms: Similarities between youth in different alcohol policy contexts. J Stud Alcohol Drugs 2011 May; 72:418.
*van den Eijnden, R., van de Mheen, D., Vet, R., & Vermulst, A. (May 2011). Alcohol-Specific Parenting and Adolescents’ Alcohol-Related Problems: The Interacting Role of Alcohol Availability at Home and Parental Rules. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 72(3), 408-417.Available at: www.jsad.com/jsad/link/72/408