BYU study finds indulgent parents may aid binge drinking

June 24, 2010

PROVO — You can’t just love your kids away from alcohol. In fact, teens who viewed their parents as warm and affectionate, but lax in their monitoring, were three times more likely to engage in heavy drinking than their loved and supervised peers, according to a new BYU study.

The findings, in the July issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, state that teens who feel supported and loved as well as monitored by their parents were the least likely group to engage in “heavy drinking,” defined as five or more drinks at a time.

“It’s a good idea to have both (supervision and affection) in your relationship with your child, rather than thinking that one or the other is going to be sufficient to ensure that they’re avoiding those risky behaviors,” said John Hoffmann, BYU professor of sociology and study co-author.

The study relied on information from 5,000 Utah students, ages 12 to 19, who shed light on their drinking habits as well as their relationship with their parents through questions like, “Would your parents know if you didn’t come home on time?” and “Do you share your thoughts and feelings with your mother/father?”

Teens who rated their parents high on monitoring, but low on warmth and affection were twice as likely to be heavy drinkers, while teens who classified their parents as low on both monitoring and affection were four times more likely to be heavy drinkers when compared with teens who felt supported and monitored by their parents.

Yet the authors are quick to point out that being loving, concerned parents doesn’t mean your teenager won’t experiment with alcohol. In fact, there was little difference between the parenting styles and whether a teen tried alcohol or engaged in social drinking.

The study’s key finding was that supervised, supported teens are less likely to engage in the more dangerous drinking behaviors, which have become a growing concern, said co-author and sociology professor Steve Bahr.

But more than just a parenting attitude, parents can also influence their teens in roundabout ways.

“The data suggest that the combination of parenting style and religiosity might help counter the influence of peers toward heavy alcohol use,” according to the study.

Bahr and Hoffmann noted that teens who classified themselves as religious were less likely to drink or binge drink, and were also less likely to have imbibing friends.

They also found that teens with supportive, monitoring parents were less likely to have friends who drank, which in turn decreased the probability of that teen drinking or drinking heavily.

“In spite of the fact that peers are a powerful influence,” Bahr said, “what the parents do, does make a difference.”