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Prevention Efforts by Drinking Parents Can Backfire

By February 13, 2008

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Parents can have a great influence on preventing their teenagers from drinking while underage, many studies have found. But parents who drink, especially those with drinking problems, find it more difficult to influence their teens as their parental skills begin to deteriorate and the actions they do take can have unintended results.

According to a study of 4,731 adolescents and their parents by lead researcher Shawn J. Latendresse, of Virginia Commonwealth University, the two main parental skills that parents can use to influence the behavior of their teenage children are monitoring and discipline.

Monitoring and Discipline Are Effective

Monitoring is knowing where their children are and what they are doing and with whom they are doing it. Discipline is trying to control the behavior of teens by use of some sort of punishment or restrictions. These efforts play a strong mediating role in whether teenagers drink or not and their influence is stronger in early adolescence, the researchers found.

However, parental alcohol use, intoxication and problem drinking symptoms result in decreases in monitoring and increases in discipline, the study found. Parents with drinking problems are less likely to monitor the activities of their children and then try to make up for it by trying to impose excessive discipline.

When parents decrease efforts to monitor their teens, adolescent alcohol use and more frequent intoxication increases. The "protective effects" of parental monitoring is removed.

Excessive Discipline Can Backfire

Likewise, imposing excessive discipline can have the unintended effect of increasing alcohol-related behaviors, especially in older teens who are beginning to seek a greater sense of autonomy.

"This awareness provides us with some tangible targets for prevention," said Latendresse, "that is, knowing where one's children are, what they are doing, etc., and not exerting excessive control or discipline to the extent that it actually subverts a child's need to develop their independence," said Latendresse, in a news release.

"Furthermore," added Michael Windle, of Emory University, "this awareness may be viewed as an empowering finding for parents; and, ideally, parents in need will be proactive and seek assistance to reduce their own drinking behavior and/or strengthen their parenting skills."

The study, Parenting Mechanisms in Links Between Parents' and Adolescents' Alcohol Use Behaviors was published in the February issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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