Alcohol and Children: How should parents model responsible drinking?

Parents who provide their teens with alcohol and a place to consume it may think they are teaching their children “responsible drinking”. However, this is contradicted by the latest research. Researchers found the parental provision of alcohol is associated with increased teen alcohol use.

Drinking alcohol is undoubtedly a part of American culture, as well as parent-child conversations about its potential risks and benefits. However, information on alcohol may seem contradictory. Alcohol has different effects on people at different stages of life: small amounts may have health benefits for certain adults, but for children and adolescents, alcohol can interfere with the normal development of the brain. The different effects of alcohol and the role that parents change in the lives of their children as they mature and seek greater independence can make talking about alcohol a challenge.

However research, that teens and young adults do believe their parents should have a say in whether they drink alcohol. Parenting styles are important—teens raised with a combination of warmth, encouragement, and appropriate discipline are more likely to respect their parents’ boundaries. Understanding parental influence on children through conscious and unconscious efforts, as well as when and how to talk to children about alcohol, can help parents to have more influence than they might think about drinking. Parents can play a crucial role in helping their children develop healthy attitudes toward drinking while minimising their risk.

The evidence suggests that alcohol consumption, and in particular excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages, can have negative effects on the development of adolescents and increase the risk of alcohol dependence later in life. This emphasis the need for parents to help delay or prevent the onset of drinking as long as possible. Parenting styles can influence whether your children follow their advice about alcohol use. Each parent is unique, but the ways in which each parent interacts with their children can be broadly categorised into four styles: Authoritarian parents, Permissive parents, Neglectful parents and Authoritative parents.

Regardless of the outcome of the development examined – body image, academic success or substance abuse – children raised by authoritarian parents tend to be better than their peers. This is certainly true when it comes to the subject of underage drinking, such parents learn approaches to a problem-solving and emotional expression that help protect against the psychological dysfunction often preceded by alcohol abuse. The combination of discipline and support by authoritative parents promotes healthy decision-making about alcohol and other potential threats to healthy development

The key to a child developing a healthy attitude to alcohol is for parents to educate as well as model good behaviour. Peer pressure will always have some effect but not all teenagers are going to sneak off in order to get drunk on a regular basis.

It’s also important to ensure that alcohol consumption in the home is monitored. Alcohol shouldn’t be accessible by children or consumed unattended. For the time being practice these with your kids:

  • Start talking about alcohol early, whenever it’s relevant.
  • Answer their questions.
  • Set clear expectations.
  • Give your kids facts before you think they need them.
  • Keep communication open.
  • Coach instead of trying to control.
  • Have practice conversations with your child
  • Make sure your teen has other opportunities for extreme fun.
  • Raise a child who can say No.
  • When your child DOES try alcohol, be there to talk about it.
  • Be your child’s backup.
  • Model healthy living.
  • Foster emotional intelligence.
  • Above all, stay connected with your child, at every age.

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