Teen Drinking at Home: Helpful or Harmful?

Filed under: In The News, Alcohol & Drugs, Research Reveals: Teens

Teen drinking at home with parents

Parents have mixed feelings about serving alcohol to teens at home. Credit: Getty

At some point, most parents will confront the issue of underage drinking with their teen -- whether it's in middle school, high school or college -- and will have to take a stand on drinking, both in and outside of the home.

Some parents allow their teens to have an occasional glass of wine or a beer at home, believing kids who drink in moderation at home will be less likely to binge drink at a club or party, where they'll be much more at risk, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Other parents, however, believe underage drinking is dangerous and illegal no matter where or how it occurs, the newspaper adds, and say it sends an irresponsible message to teens that could pave the way for alcohol abuse later on.

But, in reality, many parents do supply their teens with alcohol -- at least some of the time.

According to a report released last month by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly 6 percent of 12- to 14-year-olds (about 700,000 middle school kids) have had an alcoholic drink in the past month, the Journal reports. Nearly 45 percent of those obtained the alcohol free at home, including 16 percent who got it from a parent or guardian. However, the survey doesn't detail how much alcohol was involved or under what circumstances, the newspaper adds.


"This report isn't designed to say, 'Bad parents!' It's designed to say, 'Here's an issue you should pay attention to,' " Peter Delany, director of SAMHSA's Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, tells the Journal. "When kids under age 15 start drinking and drinking heavily, they are about six times more likely to end up with alcohol problems."

But Stanton Peele, a psychologist and author of books on addiction, tells the Journal he's not convinced any type of drinking before the age of 15 sets kids up for the risk of alcohol problems later on.

"There's a giant difference between a kid who gets totally wasted on some purloined booze in the woods with his friends, and someone who has wine at dinner with their parents or as part of a religious ceremony," Peele tells the newspaper.

According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 86 percent of American youths have used alcohol by the time they turn 21, and 50 percent are binge drinking, downing five or more drinks in a sitting for men and four or more for women.

Although 21 is the legal drinking age in the United States, 31 states allow parents, guardians or spouses to give alcohol to minors, with seven of those states allowing it in a private residence, the Journal reports. Thirty states allow minors to drink for religious reasons.

And though there hasn't been a lot of research on the role of parents in underage drinking, findings from the United States and Europe are mixed with regard to predicting binge drinking or problems with alcohol later in life, according to the newspaper.

But U.S. government agencies and quite a few alcohol-awareness organizations contend that no amount of underage drinking should be allowed, the Journal says. They say teens who drink are at a higher risk for being involved in motor vehicle accidents, homicides, suicides and accidents of all kinds, as well as unplanned sex, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Studies also suggest alcohol can do long-term damage to brains that are still developing in teens and even young adults in their early 20s, the Journal reports.

Conflicting information and differing cultural norms leave many parents wondering how to handle the subject of alcohol with their children. Delany tells the newspaper he's been very clear about the dangers of alcohol and drugs with his own son, and suggests parents discuss upcoming situations with their teens.

"You can say, 'There may be a lot of people drinking. Have you thought about how you're going to handle that?' Then really listen to their answers," he says.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.