When it comes to allowing teenagers to have alcohol at home, parents tend to fall into two camps: They either forbid underage drinking, or they permit their teens to have some alcohol at home — whether just for special occasions or, more often, in an aim to help them drink more responsibly and stay off the road.
But does underage drinking lead to problems with alcohol later on?
The latest research says yes and no, depending on the family situation. A new study, which was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs and involved 772 adolescents ages 12 to 17 (and their parents), suggests that family structure plays an important, influential role in teens’ future alcohol use.
The researchers found that adolescents who were permitted to drink at home and lived with both biological parents showed the lowest levels of alcohol use and problems over time, whereas teens from families with a single parent or blended families (such as a biological parent and a stepparent) who could drink at home showed the highest levels of alcohol use and problems down the road.
Family structure may factor into how well parents are able to monitor their teen’s drinking. “Research shows a primary protective factor for kids is supervision by their parents, which can tie into kids using alcohol,” Kirsten Cullen Sharma, co-director of NYU Langone Child Study Center, tells Yahoo Health. “Greater levels of supervision lead to less risky behavior.”
Although drinking under the age of 21 is illegal in the U.S., adolescents and young adults ages 12 to 20 years drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But not all underage drinking is illegal: According to the Wall Street Journal, 31 states permit parents to provide alcohol to minors, and 30 states allow those under 21 to drink for religious reasons, such as wine at church.
Whether or not you allow your teens to have alcohol at home, Sharma says it’s important for parents to teach by example. “Model healthy drinking behaviors and talk about alcohol with kids,” she says. “It sets up a good dynamic of open communication with each other,” she says.
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