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Sorry, moms: No matter how you parent, you may not be able to keep alcohol out of the hands of your teenager, says a new study. But you can influence just how much your teen will drink. The evidence is powerful enough that I’m re-assessing my own parenting style.
The study from Bringham Young University observed the drinking behavior of about 5,000 12- to 17-year-olds and also assessed their relationship with their parents. It found that parental style did not affect whether or not the teens drank, but it did affect whether they engaged in dangerous, heavy drinking (defined as having five or more drinks in a row).
The teens whose parents were described as "authoritarian," meaning they are strict and lacking in warmth and support, were more likely to drink heavily or to have close friends who used alcohol than the teens whose parents were "authoritative" (demanding and strict but also warm and supportive). Also more apt to binge: teens whose parents were "indulgent" (warm but not very disciplinary).
The authoritative parenting style even worked for kids who were exposed to peer pressure. “Although peers are very important, it’s not true that parents have no influence,” said researcher Stephen Bahr, a professor in BYU’s College of Family, Home and Social Sciences, in a press release. Interestingly, the study also found that adolescents who reported religious involvement were less likely to have participated in any alcohol use or heavy drinking than teens who reported less religious involvement, regardless of parenting style.
While my kids are younger, knowing this study exists suddenly makes those little lessons of right and wrong (like “let Andrew have a turn on Wii LEGO Star Wars,” or “No, you don’t need another package of Silly Bandz just because Emily has 500 of them") seem so much more important. I'm now wondering whether I'm too indulgent, backing out on repercussions too often, or too strict (that last punishment I doled out to my daughter left her screaming, “I hate you, mommy!” Ouch). It seems a little of both -- some discipline, some letting go -- is best. According to the authors of the study, the right balance is this: “Authoritative parents tend to be highly demanding and highly responsive. They monitor their children closely and provide high levels of support and warmth.” I’m picturing a hovering helicopter with a smile.
How do you discourage your teen from drinking? Chime in below!