Think Giving Your Teens Alcohol Protects Them From Drinking-Related Risks? Think Again
Having been a teenager myself, if there is one stage of parenting I am dreading, it’s the teen years. I pushed boundaries, and I pushed them HARD. Which is, I suppose, what those incredibly important formative years are for. And while my parents were fairly lackadaisical about a lot of stuff, I turned out OK (more or less). I was allowed to drink in their presence, and my mom did buy me alcohol. Her theory was, if I was drinking at home, I wouldn’t be out stupidly drinking with my friends. However, her theory did not test well in reality. A new study suggests that this practice is more harmful than a lot of parents realize. Evidence shows that giving teens alcohol doesn’t make them any more responsible or less at-risk for drinking-related behaviors.
A lot of parents believe that giving teens alcohol makes them drink more responsibly. While their intentions are good, new data suggests that the practice of encouraging underage drinking is backfiring in a spectacular way.
The Australian study, lead by Richard Mattick, looked at the effects of parental supply of alcohol in Australian teenagers. Researchers followed more than 1900 teens, ages 12 – 18, over a six year period. They wanted to see if teenagers who were given access to alcohol by their parents were any more risk averse than those whose parents did not encourage underage drinking. Many parents feel that allowing their teens to drink at home or in their presence will encourage responsible drinking behaviors. In other words, they wouldn’t seek out alcohol or participate in risky drinking behaviors with their peers.
But the findings of the study paint a very different and troubling picture.
During the study, as teens got older, more of them got alcohol from their parents (from 15% to 57%). The percentage of participants without any access to alcohol fell from 81% to 21%. As teens got older, more parents supplied them with alcohol, and accessibility outside of the home rose.
At the end of the study, a whopping 81% of teens who got booze from both their parents and other people reported binge drinking. In comparison, 62% of teens who got alcohol only from other people and 25% of those who got it only from their parents participated in the dangerous drinking behavior.
The authors of the study noted similar patterns when it came to alcohol-related harm and signs of future alcohol abuse or dependency. Additionally, teens whose parents supplied them with alcohol one year were more likely to also get it from other sources the next year.
Researchers concluded that giving teens alcohol did not have the intended effect. It did not encourage responsible drinking behaviors. And giving them booze at home doesn’t mean they won’t also get it elsewhere. Some parents might be surprised by these findings. But it’s certainly an important topic, and one that we need to be talking to our teens about.