Alcohol plays a pivotal role in most high school and college experiences, and whether or not you partake, new research shows your decisions are strongly influenced by your parents. According to a joint UT-Arizona State University study published this year, how parents discuss and monitor their child’s alcohol use heavily influences college drinking behavior.
The study found lower levels of monitoring or supervision in the last year of high school were associated with more binge drinking episodes during the teen’s freshman year of college. In addition, open communication about drinking, when combined with high monitoring may be linked to lower alcohol consumption.
Aprile Benner, who was not involved in the study, is an associate professor of human development and family sciences at UT. Benner said this communication is important in terms of potential disciplinary behavior.
“When parents talk with teens about the rules around drinking and the consequences the teens will face if they drink, in terms of discipline, teenagers are less likely to use alcohol, and for those who do use alcohol, this type of communication makes it more likely that alcohol use won’t escalate as quickly,” Benner said.
While parents talking to their children about consumption expectations is important, the conversation about expectations alone does not discourage teenagers from drinking, according to the study. Communication without monitoring or discipline can increase binge drinking episodes in the first year of college.
Parental monitoring, Benner added, can impact a teenager’s likelihood to escalate or initiate their alcohol consumption.
Riley Crow, a petroleum engineering freshman, said his parents expected him not to drink in high school, and the drinking values they instilled in him have become his own. His experience falls in line with the study’s findings that parental involvement can decrease the likelihood of college drinking.
“My parents raised me to be a strong Christian so I just choose not to partake in it,” Crow said. “They were always like, when you get to college, don’t sacrifice your values and what you believe to try to fit in. I just kept that mindset through high school and into college.”
While the communication from his parents was clear, Crow said as he gained his parent’s trust, their monitoring became more relaxed, but that his parents always showed concern for his well-being.
Ethan Houston, a computer science freshman, had an opposite experience. He said he lived in Beijing through high school and that while the drinking age was legally 18, it went largely unenforced around his neighborhood.
Because drinking was so prevalent in his high school experience, Houston said his parents expected him to learn how to responsibly handle alcohol and monitored him to make sure he didn’t drive or endanger others while he was drinking.
“My parents were always super open about it and said, ‘Do what you want, but know your limits, know how much you can drink and how to do it smartly,’” Houston said.
Houston said because he is so used to alcohol, the process of going to parties to drink often seems like more trouble than it’s worth.
Benner said parents’ words and actions stick with children into adulthood.
“The more parents can play an active role in teen’s lives early on, monitoring their activities and engaging in quality and consistent conversations with them … the less likely the teens are to display problematic alcohol behaviors when they grow into adults,” Benner said.