‘Tough love’ from parents decreases chances of teenagers binge drinking

20 September 2011

A ‘tough love’ parenting style is the most effective approach to preventing teenagers from binge drinking, a new study claims.

Researchers at Demos, a leading think tank, found parenting to have an enormous effect on whether or not children went on to drink excessively as adolescents or adults. Their analysis of data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children and the 1970 British Cohort Study shows parenting style to be ‘the strongest and the only statistically significant predictor of whether the child will drink excessively at 16’. The large and comprehensive data sets allowed researchers to pinpoint the ‘true influence of parenting on alcohol consumption’ by accounting for other potential influencing factors, including income, education, ethnicity, gender and parents’ drinking habits.

Parental warmth before the age of five can also significantly reduce the chances of the child drinking excessively at age 16. However, as the child gets older, it is discipline rather than warmth that has the strongest effect on whether or not he or she will drink excessively as an adolescent and an adult. These parenting techniques not only protect children against alcohol misuse in the short term, but also teach them personal responsibility in the long term. The study also shows that children whose parents are disengaged when they are age 10 and 16 are more than twice as likely to drink excessively at age 34 than children with stricter parents.

Researchers suggest that alcohol policy needs to harness the significant influence of parents on their children’s alcohol consumption. They recommend that parents be included in more policy interventions and that other agencies, like law enforcement, help parents do their jobs.

Recommendations directed to policymakers emphasise the importance of including a wide range of actors – including parents – in the Government’s forthcoming alcohol strategy. Specific suggestions include support for enforcement schemes that involve local police, councils and retailers, and alcohol-related school programmes that involve parents.

Read the full report, ‘Binge-drinking behind the headlines…Under the influence’ (pdf) by Jamie Bartlett, Matt Grist and Bryanna Hahn.

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