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                       Parents Influence Their Children‟s Drinking Habits
                                         By Justin Mohr

       The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 officially set the drinking age in the

United States at 21. Since this time, teens and young adults in Colorado have begun binge

drinking at excessive rates. This has become a dangerous activity for many teens and young

adults; however it doesn‟t have to continue. Parents in Colorado should be made more aware of

the influence they have on their children. More so than friends, parents are able to influence the

choices made by their children. By teaching their children about alcohol and the possible

dangers of abusing it in an open and honest way, parents in Colorado may be able to lessen the

amount of binge drinking teens and young adults participate in. Studies have shown that

although it is impossible to stop teens from experimenting with alcohol all together, it could be

possible for the amount of binge drinking to be reduced if parents are willing to educate their

children about alcohol. It is important for parents in Colorado to develop a trusting relationship

with their children in order to create a more open environment for the teen to ask questions in.

       Growing up in a suburban area of Lakewood, Colorado, there wasn‟t much to do. Thus,

there were a lot of parties and a lot of underage drinking. While growing up, my parents always

made me feel that I could talk to them about anything. This gave me a safe and secure feeling

when out with my friends. If I decided to drink, I knew I could always call my parents so I

didn‟t have to drive, which I did. They wanted me to know that my safety was more important

than them finding out I was experimenting with alcohol. My parents also shared stories about

when they drank too much which led to poor consequences. My dad told a story about drinking

too much at a party and coming home drunk only to fall down the basement stairs, waking

everyone up, and getting in trouble with his parents. Also my mom told a story about staying out

too late drinking in college, then missing a test the next day. This openness, combined with a
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few personal experiences with alcohol they shared, made me feel I needed to be more

responsible than some of my friends. I believe that this experience is not one only I could have.

If more parents in Colorado were to create this same type of openness and teach their child about

being responsible with alcohol, the rates of binge drinking in teens and young adults will


In a study conducted by Haske Van Der Vorst, PH.D; Rutger C. M. E. Engels, PH.D; and

William J. Burk, PH.D entitled "Do Parents and Best Friends Influence the Normative Increase

in Adolescents' Alcohol Use at Home and Outside the Home?" they argue that the amount an

adolescent drinks will increase no matter with who or where the adolescent begins drinking.

“Drinking at home not only predicts drinking outside the home, but also the inverse is the case.

The more alcohol older and younger adolescents consume in a bar or at their friends‟ house, the

more they will drink in these places, as well as at home in the future.” (Burk, 7) The table below

shows the data collected during this study and clearly depicts the steady increase in teens‟

drinking over time.

                                      Means and standard deviations of all study
TABLE 1.                                             measures
                                          Older adolescents                    Younger adolescents
Variable                        M           SD       Reported range      M         SD     Reported range
Alcohol use at home T1         1.04        1.71            0-6          0.43       0.86        0-3
Alcohol use at home T2         1.29        2.01            0-7          0.68       1.35        0-5
Alcohol use at home T3         1.68        2.75            0-10         1.06       1.91        0-7
Alcohol use outside home
T1                             2.76        4.32            0-15         0.36       0.84        0-3
Alcohol use outside home
T2                             4.88        6.24            0-21         1.6        2.86        0-10
Alcohol use outside home
T3                               6         7.34            0-25         3.37       5.22        0-17
Problem drinking T3            1.28        0.34            1-4          1.23       0.34        1-3
Drinking with parents T1       1.45        0.68            1-6          1.29       0.57        1-4
Drinking with best friend T1   1.93        0.91            1-6          1.36       0.64        1-5
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 Parental supervision T1                 2.79           0.94                    1-5                3.17       0.92             1-5
                   Notes: Drinking at home and drinking outside the home describe the number of glasses of alcohol
                  consumed in the previous week. Response categories for problem drinking were 1 (never), 2 (once),
                 3 (a couple of times), 4 (often), and 5 (very often). Response categories for drinking with parents and
                  best friend were 1 (never), 2 (one to three times in the last 4 weeks), 3 (one to two times per week),
                   4 (three to four times per week), 5 (fi ve to six times per week), and 6 (daily). Response options of
                 parental supervision of youth alcohol use were 1 (never), 2 (once in a while), 3 (sometimes), 4 (often),
                 and 5 (always). T = Time. aT2 refers to 1 year after baseline measurement; bT3 refers to 2 years after
                                                           baseline measurement. (Burk, 4)

        These figures show how important it is for parents to educate their children about the

dangers of consuming alcohol irresponsibly. Knowing that a teen‟s drinking will increase over

time, if parents are able to engrain the possible dangers of alcohol in their child, they may have

an influence in lessening the amount the teen drinks during their first few experiences. In the

long run, this could have positive effects. The teen will have less of a chance of abusing alcohol

later in time.

        This is a truth seen by a woman named Martha who called in to National Public Radio to

Neal Conan on May 25, 2009. They were discussing keeping teens from drinking on prom night.

Martha was studying to become a substance abuse counselor, at this time she was given many

videos to watch on the subject, and she knew it was important for her sixteen year old son to

watch them as well. “I'd bring him in and said, „well, I'm going to watch these things. Let's

discuss these together and let's watch these together‟… we saw what it would do to, you know, to

your body when you did these things and we'd talk about it” (Conan) Martha then continued to

explain how this did work for her son. While she knew all his friends were abusing alcohol, her

son was not. Martha admitted her son still would take an occasional drink during family

celebrations, but he always had a sense of responsibility about it. Another caller, named Sky,

later in the program called in and informed the listeners that her son began drinking at the age of

fourteen, and later died at age 30 from an alcohol related incident. Sky explained she had been a

young parent and didn‟t think ahead about talking to her child about alcohol. She goes on to say

that a responsible parent should start talking to their child about alcohol around the age of
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eleven. Sky also explained, “At one point in his late 20s, my son did enter an alcohol rehab

program and learned about the differences that happen to a young brain, brain chemistry,

brainwave function. And as he gained sobriety for a period of time, he saw that changing in

himself, and it made a great impact, and he even said, „I wish I'd known this.‟” (Conan)

       Parental involvement and communication in a child‟s life can make a huge impact. This

was found to be true in a study entitled “Underage drinking among young adolescent girls: The

role of family processes” conducted by Kristin C. Cole, Lin Fang, and Steven P. Schinke. A

commonality was found between each of the girls that exhibited behavior less inclined to drink

over the course of the study. After conducting their research, they discovered that, “…Higher

levels of body esteem, self-efficacy, parental monitoring, family rules against alcohol use, and

family involvement were found in the group of girls who did not drink.” (Cole, 3) This study

also looked at the role of friends in making decisions as to how much to drink, if at all. Although

it can be argued that peers play a large role in a teen‟s drinking habits, the study found that

family rules and interactions had a larger effect on the girls than peer pressure did. It was also

found that only maternal drinking increased both lifetime and recent alcohol use.

       Today, binge drinking is on the rise among teens and young adults in Colorado. It has

become a dangerous pastime continuing to cause suffering for many. However through more

parental involvement and open communication with teens about alcohol abuse, this trend could

be slowed or even put to rest. Teens and young adults in Colorado will always experiment with

alcohol. By parents talking to and educating their children about the dangers of alcohol abuse,

they will have a larger influence to be responsible with alcohol than the negative influence from

peer pressure to drink. The wisdom and insight available to teens through their parents is vast,

and they want to learn from it. It isn‟t until looking back that a person sees how valuable
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knowledge can be. The dangers of alcohol abuse may be real, but many teens are not readily

seeing them. It is the responsibility of parents in Colorado to educate their children about the

dangers of alcohol abuse, in order to influence them not to drink until a later age, and to drink

less once they do.

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