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Study Examines Parental Influence on Adolescent Drinking

Posted Oct 03 2008 12:52pm

Here is an article that examines the role of parental drinking behavior and parenting techniques (specifically control exerted on the child) and adolescent alcohol use.  They examined parental reports of discipline style and personal alcohol-use patterns, as well as adolescent perceptions (at both age 14 and 17.5).  A quote describing the results:

"The findings were twofold: first, among the parenting dimensions examined, monitoring and discipline played the strongest intermediary role in associations between parental and adolescent drinking behaviors; and second, the magnitude of this mediating role was much stronger during early adolescence, whereas parental drinking had more direct associations with their offspring's drinking in later adolescence."

These findings suggest that parenting style has a more direct impact on younger kids, while other influences (including the behavior modeled by the parent) more strongly impact the other kids.  This, I think, makes some intuitive sense, though I still think kids are "learning" the behavior modeled by the parents at the younger age; it is simply that "what the parents say" is a strong enough influencer at younger ages to hold off (not eradicate) "what the parents do."  As the child becomes older, and is exerting their autonomy, they will still do so through the behaviors they have learned.  In other words, a pre-teen learns about drinking from watching their parents, but is still invested in following orders.  The older the child gets, however, the more they will "do what they want," which will be what they observed before.

In treatment, I've often cautioned parents in this regard.  Kids end up doing what they see their parents do, not what their parents tell them to do.  If you really want to prevent your child from growing up to be a smoker, then make every effort to quit - telling them how awful cigarettes are just doesn't overcome the thousands of visual observations of their parent(s) smoking.  Remember - in a very general sense, kids see themselves as half mom/half dad, and tend to mimic.  If you want your kids to read well, then read.  You want kids who are fit, then exercise.  And so on...

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