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Jan 09, 2015 12:33 PM EST

Alcohol Warnings From Parents Discourage Adolescents From Drinking

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Parental restrictions when it comes to alcohol use could significantly impact adolescent drinking, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the University at Buffalo found that there is considerable value to consistent and sustained parental attitudes about drinking. Their findings suggest that parents should not underestimate the impact of maintaining that messaging as their children move through adolescence.

"What our data are suggesting is that you can't control all of your kids' decisions, but you can help them to make good choices in situations where alcohol is available," researcher Craig Colder said in a statement. "You want kids to think about and reflect upon the pros and cons of drinking based on your previous discussions."

Most of the literature on adolescent alcohol use has been driven by the kinds of attitudes that predict drinking, but little work has been done on how these attitudes form. 

For the study, researchers used three annual assessments of parents and the target adolescents. For the first assessment, subjects were 10- or 11-years-old, an age before most kids initiate drinking. Researchers asked questions about drinking and the family environment. One year later, the subjects were interviewed again, and then interviewed a third time after another year had passed.

The study shows that those same parents who communicate the risks of alcohol use with their young children are often less likely to continue those discussions as their kids get older.

Though evidence shows that restrictive household rules against alcohol use discourage children from drinking, parents tend to shift those rules over time, along with the attitudes they project to their kids about drinking. The rules slacken as children get older; the consequences of breaking those rules become less severe; and parents spend less time with their kids discussing alcohol use and its associated dangers.

"We found a correlation between the shifting of those three aspects of parenting and increases in alcohol use," Colder said. "The more rapid those declines, the more rapid the increase in the onset of alcohol use."

The findings are detailed in the December issue of Addictive Behaviors.

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