June 25th, 2010
05:52 PM ET
Trying to prevent your teen from binge drinking? A new study suggests you might want to consider your parenting style.
"Parents who are what we call authoritative, which is to say they monitor kids closely and show a lot of warmth and support, they are less likely to have teens who participate in heavy drinking," explains sociologist and study author Stephen Bahr of Brigham Young University in Utah.
Bahr and his research team surveyed almost 5,000 young people ages 12-19 about their drinking behaviors and the level of emotional support, monitoring and direction from parents. The parents were placed into four different parenting styles, based on the children's answers: authoritative – loving and very hands-on, authoritarian – strict, but not warm, indulgent – loving but less likely to discipline, and neglectful.
"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," explains Nadine Kaslow, psychologist at Emory University School of Medicine.
Experts say parents don't have much influence over whether their children drink alcohol, but parenting style does affect whether adolescents binge drink – defined as five or more drinks in a row. The adolescents who indicated their parents were authoritative were less apt to binge drink than teens raised with any other parenting style.
The youth who drank less were also more likely to have close friends who were non-drinkers. But even if their friends did drink, teens raised by authoritative parents were still less likely to choose risky behaviors themselves.
"Even though peers are important, parents have a significant influence, can actually soften the influence of peers," explains Bahr.
Psychologist Nadine Kaslow says the study findings are important and she'd like to see them replicated in an observational study where researchers actually observe parents and teens.
Bahr hopes parents will develop new strategies to build kind, loving relationships with their teens and set clear, firm boundaries and limits. This foundation may help steer teens away from risky behavior such as binge drinking.
"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," explains Bahr.
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