Struggling with Underage Drinking?
How Parental Guidelines Make a Difference
Handout from "Welcome to the Teenage Brain" with Mike Nerney
March 28, 2012
Prom and graduation season is almost here, and with it comes graduation parties and a perennial question: Should parents help their children learn how to drink responsibly by allowing them to drink at home with supervision?
Many parents wrestle with the issue of underage drinking or marijuana use. Ideally, no parent wants their teen to drink or use drugs, but some parents are tempted to accept their teen’s use with the hope that the parent can better control it. In fact, one third of 500 parents surveyed last year by The Prevention Council said kids should be allowed to experiment with alcohol at home so they’d know what to expect after high school when they’re on their own. So what are you to do?
According to new research, the answer is a definite no.
Many parents believe that if their kids have had no experience with alcohol before leaving home that they’ll drink to excess in college and put themselves at risk for alcohol poisoning, sexual abuse, and who knows what other scary situations. People often point to the more permissive drinking attitude in Europe as proof that allowing some underage drinking leads to less binge drinking by taking away alcohol’s “mystique.” But that’s simply not true. The majority of European countries have a higher rate of teen drunkenness than the US. In fact, a Dutch study on the “European drinking model,” in which kids grow up with a glass of wine around the family dinner table, has found that the more teens drink at home, the more likely they are to drink outside of the home and develop drinking problems later in life.
Twenty years ago, we didn’t know how badly teens’ brains were affected by alcohol. We now know that some of the last regions of the brain to mature are those that regulate judgment, critical thinking skills, and memory. These are the areas most likely to be damaged by early alcohol use – especially heavy alcohol use.
Heavy alcohol use is common, especially among college students. Locally, 30% of 11th and 12th graders in Saratoga Springs High School reported binge drinking in the past month (2010 Prevention Needs Assessment Survey). That’s 5 or more drinks in a row for boys, 4 or more in a row for girls.
A Penn State researcher recently found that the more parents condone underage alcohol use, the more kids drink. And conversely, when parents have a no-use alcohol policy for kids, the less kids drink or binge drink in college. The study found that parents’ values and expectations still matter to kids, even when they leave home.
Study after study has shown that the best thing parents can do to prevent their children from drinking heavily at college, developing long-term drinking problems and learning and memory problems, is to promote a zero-tolerance drinking policy with their kids until they’re 21 and to model responsible adult drinking behavior.
This information is brought to you by the Prevention Council, which funded tonight’s program.