February 12, 2008 / 3:39 PM / in 11 years

Parents' drinking influences teenagers

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - When it comes to alcohol, many teenagers may take a cue from their parents, new research suggests.

A wine is offered at the International Trade Fair Wines and Spirits 'ProWein 2007' in Duesseldorf, March 19, 2007. When it comes to alcohol, many teenagers may take a cue from their parents, new research suggests. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

In a study of more than 4,700 teenagers, researchers found that parents’ drinking habits appeared to influence their children in both direct and indirect ways.

In the first case, teenagers seemed to simply follow the example of a parent who drank excessively, the study found. In the second case, many teens seemed to view parents’ drinking as a sign of lax parenting, and this, in turn, affected their likelihood of drinking.

Past studies have found that parents can be a strong influence on their children’s odds of drinking. The current findings shed light on how this plays out, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Shawn J. Latendresse, of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

“I think that this is an important finding for parents in that it raises an awareness of their multifaceted influence on the drinking behaviors of their adolescents,” Latendresse told Reuters Health.

Knowing how they influence their kids, he noted, may encourage parents to seek help for their own drinking problems, or in improving their parenting skills.

Latendresse and his colleagues report the findings in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The study included 4,731 Finnish teenagers and their parents; all were part of an ongoing health study of twins born between 1983 and 1987. Parents were asked about their past and present drinking habits, as well as any alcohol problems. Their children were asked about any drinking at the ages of 14 and 17, and about their views of their home life.

That included whether they thought their parents were “warm and caring,” “indifferent” or “unjust.” They also described their parents’ tendency to monitor or punish them.

Overall, the researchers found, parents’ drinking levels correlated with those of their teenagers. But it was more than a matter of the teenagers simply copying their parents.

Instead, the link was partially explained by the teens’ perceptions of their parents as monitors and disciplinarians. Parents who drank heavily tended to be lax in monitoring their children’s comings and goings, but tended to punish them more often. Those tendencies seemed to influence their teenagers’ odds of drinking and getting drunk, particularly at the age of 14, the researchers found.

The findings, according to Latendresse, suggest that parents who monitor their children may lower their odds of drinking. On the other hand, he added, excessive discipline might have the unintended effect of pushing teenagers to drink.

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, February 2008.

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