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Authoritative parents better at preventing kids’ binge drinking, study finds

Peer influence is known to be a major factor in whether teens binge-drink. But it turns out that parents play a part as well: A Brigham Young University study reveals that those with an authoritative, nurturing style were the least likely to have children who drink heavily.

For decades, sociologists and psychologists have been trying to determine whether some kinds of parents are better for children than others.

One model of parenting styles was first developed by American psychologist Diana Baumrind in the late 1960s. Since then, Dr. Baumrind and others have tweaked the model to cover four categories of normal (non-abusive and non-neglectful) parenting that are commonly used in research on children and adolescents.

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The four styles – authoritarian, authoritative, indulgent and neglectful (also called indifferent) – are based on combined measures of parental support and control of children. They are usually measured using research questionnaires.

The new Brigham Young University study found that these four categories help determine whether teenagers binge-drink. Peer influence remains the single strongest indicator, "but even if their [children's] friends drink, parenting style does make a difference," said study author Stephen Bahr, a sociologist. Children of authoritative parents are least likely to binge-drink.

The results add to a growing body of research advocating authoritative parenting.

Some researchers believe that this nurturing style makes a child more receptive to parental influence. They say a combination of support and control can help a child learn to control himself. Parent-child communication seems to be better in these relationships, too.

Psychologist Laurence Steinberg of Philadelphia's Temple University has found that both younger children and teenagers raised in authoritative homes show advantages in psychosocial development and mental health.

These teens have also been shown to score higher on measures of self-reliance and self-esteem and are less likely to engage in anti-social behaviour, including delinquency and drug use.

A 2006 Boston University School of Medicine study even found a link between parenting style and overweight first graders, with authoritative parenting being the least associated with the risk of a child being overweight. Authoritarian parenting was most linked to a child being overweight.

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Last year, an Icelandic study published in the journal Adolescence found that 14-year-olds who characterized their parents as authoritative were more likely to have finished high school than their peers.

For Brigham Young University study, Prof. Bahr and his colleague John Hoffman surveyed nearly 5,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 about their alcohol use and their relationships with their parents.

While all teens were likely to have used alcohol, teens from authoritative homes were significantly less likely than teens from the other three types to have participated in heavy drinking – defined as five or more drinks in a row.

Strict parents more than double the risk of heavy drinking.

But the indulgent parents experienced nearly triple the risk of their teenagers participating in heavy drinking.

Yet, Prof. Bahr says parenting styles are not necessarily fixed.

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"Even when teens are in the late high-school years, there are still things parents can do," he said. Indulgent parents can "begin to provide rules," he said. "It does have an effect. Teens do listen."

Likewise, authoritarian parents can realize that by themselves, control and discipline don't work unless accompanied by warmth and support. "You can't just have one without the other," he said.

What kind of parent are you?

Indulgent parents are:

  • Non-traditional, lenient and non-confrontational
  • Make few demands on their children
  • Assume their children will self-regulate
  • Think a hug is better than a curfew

Authoritative parents:

  • Balance support with control
  • Are warm and nurturing, but also monitor their children’s whereabouts, know their friends and use discipline
  • Are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive

Authoritarian parents:

  • Favour control over support
  • Are demanding and have trouble offering praise and warmth to their children
  • Think orders are to be obeyed without explanation
  • Use the “Because-I-said-so” response

Neglectful/indifferent parents:

  • Provide neither direction nor support.
  • Don’t much care for curfews or hugs

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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