Parenting style strongly affects drinking, Demos says

Teenager drinking Binge drinking is defined as drinking more than twice the daily recommended allowance in a sitting

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Parenting style is one of the strongest influences on how a child drinks as a young adult, a study suggests.

Independent think tank Demos studied data based on about 15,000 children born in the UK in the last 40 years.

It found that a "tough love" style of parenting was the best way to ensure children drank more responsibly when they were aged between 16 and 34.

The research also suggests that being too authoritarian with children could be as ineffectual as being too casual.

Warm and affectionate

Researchers found that the best approach was for parents to be warm and affectionate until the age of 10 and then combine this with more discipline. Then at ages 15 to 16 there should be more supervision.

It found high levels of parental attachment when children were aged under five significantly reduced the chances of them drinking excessively later in life.

Demos's parenting types

  • Authoritarian: Set absolute standards, value obedience and structure over freedom and exploration
  • Tough love: Expect children to conform to rules that can be negotiated. Encourage autonomy in decision making
  • Laissez-faire: Emotionally engaged but tend to abrogate responsibility for setting rules. Few standards imposed
  • Disengaged: Uninvolved emotionally with their children. Do not structure activities or set boundaries

It studied data gained from questioning of parents on two broad areas - warmth and discipline.

When their children were young, parents were asked about how much time they spent with them and whether they ate meals together, among other questions.

Regarding discipline, they were asked whether they knew where their teenage children were in the evenings, how often household rules were broken, and other questions.

When the children reached adulthood, they were asked about alcohol consumption.

Report author Jamie Bartlett said that parenting which combined high levels of both warmth and discipline "results in the child overall in their lives achieving lots of positive things - well-being, responsibility, efficacy, and responsible alcohol consumption is one of them.

"This isn't just about alcohol, but it's one of those things that's affected by parenting styles."

Government action urged

Demos's study found bad parenting at 16 made children more than eight times more likely to drink excessively at that age and over twice as likely to binge drink when they were 34.

Its report says parents should discuss alcohol with their children and set firm boundaries on drinking, avoid being drunk around them and actively ensure they develop sensible expectations of consumption.

It says ensuring teenagers do not have easy access to alcohol at home and monitoring drinking in the home environment is another important element of a tough love approach.

Start Quote

Those difficult moments of enforcing tough rules really do make a difference, even if it doesn't always feel like that at the time.”

End Quote Jamie Bartlett Demos report author

The think tank recommends that parents take a lead role in dealing with "an entrenched binge drinking culture" in Britain with government support.

The government should enforce under-age drinking laws - in partnership with local authorities and retailers - so that alcohol boundaries are clear, it says.

Investment should also be made in alcohol-related school programmes involving parents, the report says.

Activities for at-risk children are also important during school holidays when there can be more opportunities to engage in binge drinking, Demos says.

Mr Bartlett said the impact of parenting on children's future drinking "cannot be ignored".

"This is good for parents: those difficult moments of enforcing tough rules really do make a difference, even if it doesn't always feel like that at the time."

Data used in Demos's study came from the 1970 British Cohort Study.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    When we had a young family we were in the lucky position where one breadwinner was enough to finance a growing family. Nowadays parents are under enormous pressure. Both parents are working long hours and fighting to keep their jobs just to keep a roof over thier head and food in their mouths. Consequently family cohesion suffers and this is what we see.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    It's not exactly rocket science, good parents raise good children and visa-versa. Of course there are always exceptions but as a rule it's pretty obvious. I can't claim to have succeeded yet, my children are only 8, 10 and 13 but they've never seen my wife or me drunk and even asked the other day if we'd ever been drunk - if only they knew, me anyway!

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    As soon as you tell kids that "alcohol is bad" they will instantly rebel. It's in their nature to want to try forbidden fruit.

    Far better for them to see their parents drinking responsibly, and when they are old enough, allow them to have a drink with their parents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    My parents were textbook authoritarians, and, due to having demanding jobs and little money, hugely stressed on top of it. They don't drink and never have, but managed to produce three alcoholic kids. So-called 'bad' parents will always be around. Better, perhaps, to focus on making schools a place for alcohol education? Research repeatedly shows the positive influence of good education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Being Dutch, our children were brought up with the continental approach to alcohol. They shared a small glass of wine or beer at meal times if they wanted it. It was never forbidden, not seen as only for adults. We enjoyed it as part of dinner, of social gatherings. Our children had no problems with alcohol, knew how to drink responsibly, have good degrees and good jobs.


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