Teen alcohol use has been and remains a problem in the United States, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which notes that by the 8th grade, 40 percent of adolescents have tried alcohol. By the 12th grade, more than half of all adolescents have been drunk at least once. Parents can influence teen drinking, and parental style may be the key.
Parents have different styles of relating to and managing their children, according to psychologist Diana Baumrind. Baumrind says that all parenting styles are a mixture of the need to control a child and the amount of warmth a parent displays to the child. She identified four basic types of parenting styles. Parents may be authoritarian -- heavily into control and punishment, but low in warmth. Others are permissive -- high in warmth but unable or unwilling to set limits. Neglectful parents could care less and may show no interest in their children. Authoritarian parents balance warmth with thoughtful discipline and high standards. Parenting styles can affect whether and how much teens drink.
When it comes to alcohol use, authoritarian parents are more likely to raise children who are heavy drinkers, according to according to a July 2010 study in the “Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.” Children raised by authoritarian parents had double the risk of heavy drinking. Authoritarian parents tend to give orders but do not explain the reasoning behind the order. The study authors noted that when all decisions are made by the parents, the teen has no practice in using her own judgment and doesn't have a good understanding of the negative consequences of heavy drinking. Authoritarian parenting, with its emphasis on parental decision-making, tends to create children who are less resourceful and socially adept, and who have lower self-esteem, according to anthropologist Gwen Dewar. Faced with a situation in which they are encouraged or pressured to drink, such teens may have difficulty saying “No.”
Permissive and Neglectful Parents
Permissive parents are even more likely to raise teens who have a drinking problem, according to the “Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.” The indulgent parents, who fail to monitor their children and allow bad behavior to happen without consequences, raised teens who displayed serious alcohol abuse, such as binge drinking. A child of permissive parents doesn't learn to set limits on herself, according to clinical psychologist Laura Markham, creator of the website Aha! Parenting. She may not have the self-discipline not to drink in the first place or to resist getting drunk. Teens with permissive parents were about three times more likely to participate in heavy drinking. Neglectful parents -- whose style is extremely hands-off, with no limits, supervision or support, also tended to raise teens who were more likely to drink heavily.
Teens raised by authoritative parents were the least likely to develop alcohol-related problems, according to the “Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.” Such teens are more likely to learn problem-solving approaches and are allowed to express emotions in healthy ways, which can add a protective factor that decreases the potential for alcohol misuse, according to the NIAAA. The NIAAA also notes that authoritative parents’ consistent balance of discipline and support tends to produce adolescents who respect parental boundaries and views about teen drinking. The authoritative parent makes her own views about alcohol use clear and sets a standard for behavior, unlike permissive parents, who may not set a standard or be inconsistent. She allows her teen to learn from mistakes -- which helps develop self-discipline -- and explains the rationale for avoiding alcohol to help the teen understand the "whys" of not drinking, instead of simply giving an order as an authoritarian parent might do.