By Susan Kurlander, Health Educator
Teens who drink with adult supervision have more drinking-related problems than their peers whose parents don’t allow them to drink. Surprised? This is the finding of a University of Washington study of 1,945 teens from grades 7-9 in the state of Washington and in Australia. The researchers chose to include and compare American and Australian teens because the two countries have different attitudes about teens and drinking, ranging from zero tolerance to permissiveness. As reported in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs (May 2011), the researchers found that “providing opportunities for drinking in supervised contexts did not inhibit alcohol use or harmful use in either state.”
Some parents who choose to provide alcohol for their underage teens, or who drink with their teens, do so because they want to be their child’s buddy or they want their child to be popular. Some parents think they are minimizing the potential harm that alcohol can cause by encouraging youths to drink responsibly in supervised settings. By overseeing underage alcohol use, parents often feel they are in control, that they are taking away the attractive mystique of alcohol use, and that they are role modeling responsible drinking.
But in reality, parents could be giving their children these messages that potentially can lead to risky behavior:
- There is no difference between the way alcohol may affect the teen as compared to the adult.
- The teen brain, as well as other organs, is as fully developed as an adult’s.
- Alcohol use is a normal and necessary part of growing up, even a rite of passage.
- If supervised alcohol use doesn’t present any consequences, why not engage in this behavior when parental supervision is absent?
In light of this study’s findings, parents may want to rethink their approach to underage alcohol use. All parents want to protect their children, but they may not have all the facts to determine the best way to do that. Wanting to be a friend to your teen might convince you to allow or encourage supervised drinking. Wanting to be a parent might make you think otherwise.
By Susan Kurlander, Health Educator, Prevention Education, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
*For more information about the study, co-authored by Professor Richard Catalano, visit www.drugfree.org.
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