UNLESS parents adopt a zero tolerance policy towards underage drinking, their children are more likely to develop unhealthy drinking habits, a leading US psychologist has said.
James Bray, president of the American Psychological Association, said a four-year survey of adolescent drinking habits in the US had demonstrated that parental attitudes were fundamental to shaping the drinking habits of their children.
Dr Bray told The Australian after delivering the keynote address to the Australian Psychological Association's national conference in Darwin that when adolescents believed their parents were strongly against them using alcohol, they were least likely to use and abuse alcohol.
He said the likelihood of adolescents experimenting with alcohol began to increase even if parents had a mildly more permissive attitude.
His research showed that the children of parents who took a zero tolerance approach to underage drinking were more inclined to socialize with friends and peers who also consumed less alcohol.
The Texas-based psychologist has simultaneously conducted two surveys through Houston's Baylor College of Medicine examining the drinking habits of American adolescents -- one of 1000 aged 11 to 15; the other of 4000 aged 16 to 18.
The research showed that while peer influence was important in shaping adolescents' attitudes to alcohol, the role of family contact and good family relationships could be even more crucial.
"Parents who monitor children's behavior tend to have kids who drink less," Dr Bray said. "That involves keeping up with where they are at, and who their friends are."
But he said parents also needed to foster the independence, autonomy and self-confidence of their children to make them less inclined to develop a problematic relationship with alcohol.
He said his research had confirmed that if parents were over-protective of their children and did not cultivate their adolescents' independence, those teenagers were at risk of rebellion.
"When they rebel, they tend to turn to friends and peers that drink more, and ultimately drink more themselves," he said.
Dr Bray commended the focus the Australian government has given to binge drinking.
He said societal attitudes could be successfully changed through public campaigns highlighting the risks of underage drinking.
Reprinted from The Australian, October 1, 2009- Laura Wilson