March 12, 2008 / 6:09 PM / in 11 years

Keep tabs on teens to prevent college drinking

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Parents can indirectly reduce their children’s risk of problem drinking in college by keeping an eye on them in high school, research demonstrates.

A college girl drinks beer through a funnel and pipe as thousands of college-age students gather on the infield in a traditional display of drunken fun on the day of the Preakness Stakes horse race at the Pimlico track in Baltimore, Maryland, May 15, 2004. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Students surveyed in the summer before they entered college who reported higher levels of parental monitoring during high school drank less as high school seniors, Dr. Amelia M. Arria of the University of Maryland in College Park and colleagues found. And the level of high school alcohol consumption was directly tied to how much students drank as college freshmen.

“Over time and on average, that student who never drank in high school is going to drink a lot less during their first year in college,” Arria told Reuters Health in an interview. “High school drinking level by far was the strongest predictor of college drinking.”

Arria and her team are following a group of male and female college students to investigate health risk behaviors, including drug and alcohol use. In the current study, they report on 1,253 who completed a survey before entering college and then were interviewed as freshmen.

The researchers measured students’ level of parental monitoring by asking about rule setting, consequences of rule breaking, and supervision; for example, how often a student told a parent where he or she was going and when he or she would be back, and whether a parents would check to see if an adult would be supervising a party that their child wanted to attend.

“What we’re really measuring is the perception of the child about what their parents would expect of them,” Arria said.

High levels of monitoring were tied to lower levels of drinking in high school and college, she and her colleagues found. But when they used statistical methods to control for how much the students drank in high school, the link between parental supervision on college drinking disappeared, suggesting that early supervision didn’t directly influence later drinking.

Past research has linked parents’ disapproval of underage drinking to a lower risk of alcohol use, Arria and her team note in their report, while increased parent-child hostility has been tied to a greater likelihood of drinking.

While parents typically keep looser tabs on their children once they reach college, some continued level of monitoring may be effective in protecting them from risky alcohol use, Arria noted.

“Defining this balance between parental guidance and youth autonomy is challenging since too much monitoring in the college years might cause strain in the parent-student relationship and increase the risk for negative outcomes,” she and her colleagues write. They are continuing to follow the students in the current study to understand how best to strike this balance.

SOURCE: Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, online March 7, 2008.

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