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Where Teens Drink and What Parents Can Do

Drinking among adolescents is illegal and can be very risky, resulting in injuries, assaults, alcohol poisoning and long-term alcohol problems. The level of risk depends in part on where and under what circumstances young people drink.  How much can parents affect drinking by their teen children?  How can they best reduce this risky behavior?  A recent study by the Prevention Research Center of the Pacific Institute for research and Evaluation examined where and how teens drink and what influence their parents have. 

Previous research shows that the context in which drinking occurs (for example, at parties, in their own home, in outdoor places) can contribute to specific alcohol-related problems, such as aggression, risky sex, and driving after drinking. For example, a recent study showed that problems with parents or police were associated with more frequent drinking in outdoor places (such as parking lots or street corners).  Also, previous research has shown that young people who feel that their parents monitor them closely, that they can communicate well with their parents and that they are close to their parents are less likely to use alcohol and other drugs or wait until they are older to use substances. 

To better understand how adolescents use specific contexts for drinking and what behaviors might be altered by parental monitoring, the researchers examined the responses to surveys in a sample of 1,217 15–18 year olds in 24 California cities.

The results indicate that frequent drinkers tended to spend fewer hours at home, whereas heavier drinkers tended to spend more hours at home. Frequent drinkers were more likely to drink in outdoor and private settings (i.e., own home or someone else's home).  Youth who spent more time in restaurants, bar and nightclubs and outdoor places were more likely to drink in those places.  Not surprisingly, those adolescents who go more frequently to bars and nightclubs are at much greater risk for underage drinking.

The level of monitoring by parents relates to where adolescents go, as well as to their likelihood of drinking in these contexts. In particular, young people who perceive that their parents monitor their whereabouts and activities were less likely to spend in bars or nightclubs. Youths who go more often to bars or nightclubs are at greater risk for drinking in these places and at risk for potential problems, such as fights and other violence.  Parental control can reduce the amount of time their children spend in these places. 

Parental control was positively associated with youth drinking alcohol at restaurants, which may mean that restaurants are places where adolescents drink under parents' supervision. Although drinking with parent supervision might be assumed to protect adolescents from risky drinking, a recent paper concluded that parental provision of alcohol is associated with increased adolescent alcohol use and, in some instances, with increased heavy episodic drinking and higher rates of alcohol-related problems. Parent control did reduce drinking in outdoor settings, which are risky contexts for some adverse consequences including problems with the police.

The results suggest that parents can be given concrete guidance about how to reduce their children’s risk of drinking and negative consequences.  For example, parents can be informed that by ensuring their teens do not go to bars or nightclubs they can greatly reduce the likelihood of drinking and experiencing problems, such as violence, associated with drinking in these places. A different message for parents could be developed for reducing adolescent drinking and related problems at home or other settings. Parents can be informed that general monitoring may not reduce the likelihood of their teens to drink heavily in own home or someone else's home. In those settings, more direct adult supervision is may be necessary.

Source: Lipperman-Kreda, S., Gruenewald, P. J., Bersamin, M., Mair, C. F., & Grube, J. W. (2017). Adolescent drinking in different contexts: What behaviors do parents control? Addictive Behaviors Reports, 6(1), 39-44.