Parents are divided on how best to handle teenage drinking. Should they prohibit it outright, or let teenagers drink with parental supervision?
Some parents think they might as well say OK, since the kids will drink anyway.
But researchers in the Netherlands have found that parental disapproval can be a powerful force to keep teens from succumbing to the impulse to drink.
That's a key piece of information. There's abundant evidence that the longer teenagers can delay drinking, the less likely they are to have problems with alcohol as adults. Teen drinking also increases the risk of unsafe sex, drunk driving and other hazardous behaviors.
The researchers quizzed 238 Dutch teenagers on their drinking and their parents' attitudes toward its. The Netherlands, it turns out, is a good place to ask these questions. Alcohol abuse is a serious problem there, and it's on the rise in teens. Of the 12- to 16-year-olds surveyed, almost three-quarters said they'd imbibed.
These researchers were particularly interested in cues that prompt people to drink, whether that's something they see, like a beer bottle, or a social situation. Behavioral scientists call these approach tendencies.
They also wanted to find out how teenagers responded to those cues. Anyone who's had a teenager in the house knows that they tend to be more impulsive than reflective, which means they can be more vulnerable to those cues.
When asked about their parents' rules about drinking, the teens whose parents were strict were less likely to be motivated to drink when they saw a beer bottle or another trigger they associated with alcohol. They were also better able to reflect on their choice, and consider the consequences.
In other words, those teens were better able to override the "Yeah, sure," impulse.
The research was published online in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
This correlation between parental permissiveness and teen drinking squares with recent findings in other countries. The French have found that the tradition of letting children drink wine at the family dinner table hasn't inoculated them from problem drinking, as Sarah Varney reported for NPR.
And a 2010 study in the United States found that while parental rules didn't necessarily prevent teenagers from taking that first drink, it did reduce the likelihood that they would go on to binge drink. The teenagers with indulgent parents were three times as likely to binge drink as were those whose parents set strict rules prohibiting drinking.
Sounds like no matter where they live, it's the teenagers who have the impulse, and the parents who do well by exerting control.