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Parents Can Curb Teen Drinking

Bonding, Monitoring, Meeting Friends Keep Kids Away From Alcohol
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WebMD Health News

Feb. 24, 2003 -- Yell at a kid, ground him, search his room -- but that's not the way to prevent teen drinking. What works, say experts, is developing a warm bond with your child, setting rules, monitoring activities, meeting friends and their parents -- and starting all this early on, before the teen years ever begin.

It's a big, big issue, since nationwide surveys show that 26% of 8th graders and 60% of all high school kids drink. What's considered binge drinking -- having five or more drinks on any one occasion -- ranges from 21% among 9th graders to as much as 42% among 12th graders, reports lead researcher Kenneth H. Beck, PhD, professor of health behavior at the University of Maryland in College Park.

His study appears in this March issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior.

Parents play a critical role in keeping kids away from alcohol, Beck says. Joseph Califano, president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, agrees.

"The surveys we've done, of teens and parents, show that parental engagement is critical," Califano says. "Parents have the greatest influence on kids. The more often kids have dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to drink, smoke, use drugs. We've done focus groups of kids, and it's interesting -- as often as kids complain about curfews, they say, 'it does show my parents care about me.'"

In his study, Beck reports the survey results of 444 Washington-area teens between 12 and 17 years old. All the teens were asked whether parents or guardians monitored their activities, whether they drank alcohol, whether they went to parties and other activities that involved alcohol, if they had ever talked with their parents about alcohol -- and whether their parents' opinions about alcohol mattered to them.

When parents monitored the teen's whereabouts, they were less likely to put themselves in alcohol-drinking situations or even to experiment with alcohol. "They're less likely to go to parties and other places where kids were drinking," he tells WebMD.

Beck calls it "hands-on parenting," and puts it in the context of parenting strategies -- the classic authoritative versus authoritarian styles.

"The authoritative parent makes high demands and holds high expectations, but shows a lot of warmth," Beck says. "That kind of monitoring and that kind of demandingness seemed to keep the child from getting into high-risk situations."

The authoritarian parent "puts out a lot of high demands without a lot of warmth. 'Do it this way, and if you don't you'll be in trouble.' That may work for some kids, but not most."

Kids need to hear this message: "It's because we care about you."

Monitoring kids' activities made a huge difference, he adds. "Children who had more monitoring were less likely to put themselves in a situation where there was drinking." However, that's not true with binge drinking, he says. "We think that monitoring works in the initial stages of experimentation, but not after that period is over."

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