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Parents Can Impact Teen Drinking with Clear Rules

Posted in Teens

Parents often worry that their teenaged child will experiment with alcohol, make bad choices and experience negative consequences like injury, vehicle crashes, sexually transmitted disease or an unplanned pregnancy. 

Parents wanting their kids to make responsible alcohol choices often choose one of two strategies: 1) setting clear rules and consequences; 2) letting alcohol be consumed at home because it’s safer and responsible drinking choices can be taught.

A new study by researchers at Australia’s Deakin University found that parents can reduce teen binge drinking 25 percent by setting clear rules related to alcohol consumption.

The research team, led by Professor John Toumbourou, educated parents for two years through a program called Resilient Families during their kids’ early secondary school years, providing instruction on the effects of adolescent drinking. Parents were instructed on the dangers of supplying alcohol to their teens.

The results showed that binge drinking rates for 14-year-olds were reduced by one-quarter in the 12 schools where the parental instructional program was offered, and rates did not decline in the 12 other schools used as controls. Professor Toumbourou hopes to use the results to discourage teen drinking.

Australian school surveys in 2002 revealed that 29 percent of 12- 15-year-olds used alcohol every week, but by 2011 that number had dropped to 11 percent. The authors of the study believe this reduction was due to increased awareness among parents, especially where alcohol’s impact on brain development is concerned.

Studies have shown that alcohol can cause lasting cognitive damage. Since brain development continues into one’s mid-20s, it’s critical that regular alcohol consumption be avoided during adolescence.

The research team believes the greatest impact on teen drinking rates would be a law to increase Australia’s legal drinking age from 18 to 21. A coalition of groups called 21BeThere is raising awareness about the benefits of an older legal drinking age.

In addition to open conversations about the risks of drinking and rules and consequences, parents can build family unity via regular family mealtimes, traditions like game nights, movie marathons or other rituals. Teens that have a strong sense of identity are less likely to consume alcohol, and that identity can be strengthened through positive family interactions.

Spending time together can also ward off loneliness and isolation, which can often lead to alcohol experimentation. Including family events on the calendar gives time for teens to interact with their siblings and parents, and allows natural conversational opportunities for tough topics.