Should Parents Give Alcohol to Their Underage Teens?

Should Parents Give Alcohol to Their Underage Teens?

This topic has been brought to the forefront in recent months by a study that suggests that parents that serve their adolescent kids alcohol are asking for trouble. The study looked at parents who gave their underage children the occasional sip and ones that gave them full glasses of beer or wine. 1,927 Australian teenagers from the ages of 12-18 were supervised for six years to see the results of what happened if they received alcohol from their parents or what happened if they did not.

Although parents may have the intention of teaching their teenagers to be responsible drinkers, they may be doing more harm than good. The findings of the study were astonishing because, although giving full glasses of spirits is probably worse than allowing sips, there was no difference in the later consequences:

  • Teenagers want to have "cool" parents, but parents are the guiding forces in how they model drinking for their kids. 3 out of 4 teens have professed that their parents' example has led them to make decisions about their own drinking.
  • Parental procurement of alcohol did not make any difference in whether the youth was responsible or not. Having a safe place to drink just gave binge drinkers a chance to abuse alcohol and teach their friends how to do it.
  • When parents supplied alcoholic drinks to their kids, the teens were found to be more than twice as likely to manifest symptoms of alcohol addiction or binge drink than those teenagers who had no access at all.
  • Teenagers that received alcohol from their parents were more likely to obtain alcohol from others than teenagers that did not receive alcohol at all. The teens that got alcohol from their parents were not as afraid to go out and look for alcohol from other sources. Once they figured out how to do it, they would then turn around and show other teens their methods.

The way parents communicate with their children about alcohol may have an impact on underage drinking. Parents who converse with their children in a way that makes them feel at ease, for example, may prevent their children from consuming alcohol. On the other hand, others have discovered that frequent conversations regarding alcohol between a parent and an adolescent are positively related to teen alcohol usage. Drinking behavior has been connected to perceived consequences. Teenagers who believe that if they are detected drinking, their parents will confront them or take away privileges are less likely to drink or binge drink.

Teenagers who have parents who enforce tight regulations about teen alcohol use are significantly less likely to drink and engage in alcohol-related dangerous behavior. Adolescents' positive associations with alcohol (e.g., “It feels good”) and their avoidance of negative repercussions (e.g., “I won't get in trouble”) are reinforced when parents provide alcohol.. Adolescents view the advantages of alcohol as being more likely and the hazards as being less likely when parents provide more alcohol. According to studies, more teens choose not to consume alcohol if their parents do not allow them to drink at home or do not provide them with alcohol to take to parties or social gatherings. The longer it took to get permission, the less likely teens were to drink.

Almost 200,000 teenagers pay a visit to emergency rooms around the country each year due to mishaps with alcohol. While education about alcohol abuse should start at home, that does not mean that consumption also must.

Why should parents delay teen alcohol use until age 21?

  • Early initiation of alcohol consumption may raise the risk of unfavorable physical and mental health disorders, social difficulties, and alcohol dependency later in life. When teenagers start drinking, many of them become habitual drinkers. Their brain is not formed yet so impulse control is inhibited.
  • When parents provide alcohol, research shows the likelihood of the developing person to engage in harmful drinking increases.
  • According to a recent Australian study, teenagers who were given alcohol by their parents were more likely to consume the entire drink than those who were not.
  • Parental provision was still linked to a two-fold increase in the likelihood of drinking.
  • Giving alcohol to teens has been linked to alcohol-related accidents, abuse, grief, loss and/or misconduct.
  • There is no evidence to support the idea that supplying alcohol to their children protects them from negative drinking or a habit of drinking.
  • According to longitudinal research, teenagers in their mid-teens are 2.7 times more likely to drink full servings of alcoholic drinks if their parents provided them with alcohol when they were younger.
  • Research suggests that postponing the initiation of drinking decreases long-term consumption levels throughout adulthood.
  • Regular adolescent drinking is a significant risk factor for the development of dependent and dangerous substance use behaviors in early adulthood.
  • Being regularly intoxicated in adolescence was one of the greatest predictors of alcohol-related harm in young adulthood, including self-harm, suicide ideation and increased subsequent problematic alcohol use.

This research shows that preventive initiatives focused on parents should consider boundaries, limits and accountability before seeking approval from your child. Parents who allow their teenagers to drink and perceive the benefits of doing so should be taught about common misconceptions. For example, the belief that teenagers in Europe do not drink as much as teenagers in the United States. False. Parents who decide to let their teenagers drink on the spur of the moment or who have been coerced into doing so will likely require a different intervention than parents who provide alcohol to their adult child. 

Before being put in a situation where they feel they must let their adolescents drink, parents need to be clear and calm about the family plan relevant to alcohol. Parents who are interested in reducing harm but are primarily concerned with how much their child likes them need a reminder about the data on drunk driving and additional hazards linked to premature alcohol use, including cyber sex, online predator traps using alcohol, alcohol intake, sexual assault and unprotected sex.

Safety is the first and highest responsibility of the guardian. No doubt it’s hard to parent during the adolescent years. Click here to learn about our Family Intensive. This 3 night series is required for all loved ones of a Solstice patient admitting to PHP or IOP. We discuss how to set boundaries, why limits create safety, belonging and critical thinking, among many other life-saving topics. We can provide an assessment about your teen’s drinking pattern if you feel you might have set the wrong example or been lenient and permissive to avoid conflict. If you need help building a bridge and creating a new plan for mental health in the household, we have evidence based proven methods. Everything we do is formatted and curated to foster stronger relationships inside and outside the family.

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