When it comes to risky behavior in teens, teens are more influenced by their parents than their peers. Researchers have found that parenting style overrides peer pressure in determining whether your teen will engage in risky behaviors such as binge drinking, or tobacco or drug use. Teens with parents who are nurturing and set high expectations fare the best.
Extreme Parenting Styles Lead to Binge Drinking
Teenagers who grow up with parents who are either too strict or too indulgent tend to binge-drink more than their peers, according to a study reported in a 2010 article in the issue "Journal of Studies of Alcohol and Drugs." Binge-drinking was defined as five or more drinks in a row. Study author Stephen Bahr, professor of sociology at Brigham Young University, and his research team surveyed almost 5,000 teenagers asking about their alcohol use and the level of emotional support and direction from their parents. The parents were grouped into four parenting styles: authoritarian, which is strict and not warm; indulgent, which is loving but unlikely to discipline; authoritative, which is loving and goal-oriented; and neglectful.
What's Behind the Risk-Taking
Bahr found teens raised by indulgent parents who offer few limits and consequences for bad behavior were among the biggest abusers of alcohol, being three times more likely to drink heavily. Teens whose parents demanded strict obedience and didn't allow them to make decisions were more than twice as likely to binge-drink since they didn’t understand the reasons they shouldn’t. The teens least prone to heavy drinking had parents who scored high on both accountability and warmth, traits of the authoritative parenting style. A study by the New Hampshire Cooperative Extension on teen use of marijuana, alcohol and tobacco, “Parenting Style: Does it Matter?” mirrored those results, finding the lowest prevalence of teen users had parents who used an authoritative parenting style.
More Benefits of the Authoritative Parenting Style
The researchers in the Brigham Young University study also found that teens who drank less were also more likely to have close friends who were non-drinkers. Even if their friends did drink, teens raised by authoritative parents were still less likely to choose risky behaviors themselves. "Parents who were not too extreme, either in terms of being too quick to give in, letting their kids do whatever they want, or were not too mean or threatening with kids, those kids are going to do best," noted Nadine Kaslow, psychologist at Emory University School of Medicine.
The Best Form of Prevention
The best way to prevent risky behaviors is to nurture good communication, notes Bahr. "Having a relationship with them [teens] so that they feel like they can talk to you and you support them, then they're more likely to listen to you. Maybe that's pretty common-sense advice but I think too often parents don't do it." Parents need to begin the conversation about the dangers of drinking alcohol before high school. “It's important to start talking to kids about alcohol when they're young — as early as fourth grade,” recommends Aimee Stern, author of “Delaying That First Drink: A Parents’ Guide.”