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Parenting Style Linked to Heavy Drinking in Kids

Binge Drinking Less Likely in Teens With Strict, Supportive Parents, Study Says
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 25, 2010 -- Teens with lax parents are more likely to drink heavily than teens with strict but supportive parents, a new study finds.

Binge drinking, generally defined as having five or more drinks in a row over a relatively short period of time, has become an increasing problem in the U.S. Now, a study by Brigham Young University scholars suggests that parenting style can strongly influence teen drinking.

“A major finding of this study was that adolescents whose parents were authoritative were less likely to drink heavily than adolescents who experienced the other three parenting styles,” the authors write.

  • Authoritative parents rank high in discipline and monitoring (accountability) and high in support and warmth.
  • Authoritarian parents rank high in control, but low in warmth and support.
  • Indulgent parents rank high in warmth and support, but low in accountability.
  • Neglectful parents rank low in support, warmth, and accountability.

Researchers surveyed nearly 5,000 U.S. adolescents between ages 12 and 19 in 1997 about drinking habits and their relationships with their parents. Most were white and living with both parents. Among the findings:

  • Teens least likely to drink heavily gave their parents high marks on scales of accountability and warmth.
  • Kids who said their parents were warm and indulgent, meaning parents required less accountability, were three times more likely to report heavy drinking.
  • Kids who rated their parents as high on accountability but low on warmth were twice as likely to engage in heavy drinking.

“While parents didn’t have much of an effect on whether their teens tried alcohol, they can have a significant impact on the more dangerous type of drinking,” says Stephen Bahr, PhD, a professor in BYU’s College of Family, Home and Social Sciences.

The study is published in the July issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Other findings:

  • Religious teens are less likely than less religious peers to drink alcohol. This mirrors results from a 2008 study that found that religious teens also are less likely to use marijuana.
  • Teens whose parents scored high on warmth and accountability are less likely to have friends who drink.

“The adolescent period is a kind of transitional period and parents sometimes have a hard time navigating that,” Bahr says in a news release. “Although peers are very important, it’s not true that parents have no influence.”

 “Make sure that it’s not just about controlling their behavior,” he says. “You need to combine knowing how they spend their time away from home with a warm, loving relationship.”

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