College students are often experiencing life with a new level of independence, and decisions about alcohol consumption are sometimes among the first opportunities to exercise their freedom. While some parents may consider college-age drinking a rite of passage, others want to partner with their kids to help them make good decisions.
A recent study examined the role that parents play in alcohol-related decisions among young adults. One of the authors of the study, Julie A. Patock-Peckham, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Baylor University, says that the study is unique in its focus not only on parenting style, but also on the style of each parent individually.
Past studies have looked at the role of parents in the alcohol-related behaviors of young adults, but researchers have never before looked at the parents as individuals, but just using the word “parent.”
The researchers recruited 581 college students from San Diego State University and Missouri University of Science and Technology. The students were asked to complete a questionnaire that assessed the parenting styles of each of their parents, perceptions of each parent’s familiarity with their friends and social plans, and questions about alcohol-related behaviors.
The researchers used the results of the questionnaire to classify the parents as authoritarian (emphasis on rules and obedience and a lower level of discussion), authoritative (clear rules and instructions, but with open discussion) or permissive (the parent’s role is that of a friend instead of a parent).
The results of the analysis showed that authoritative parents were very familiar with their child’s social life and plans, contrasted with permissive parents who were least likely to monitor their children effectively. The researchers were surprised to find that authoritarian parents did not show an advantage or disadvantage when it came to monitoring their children. This finding indicated that strict rules do not translate into parents knowing a lot about what their children are doing.
Another significant finding emerged from the analysis. The researchers found that more parental-monitoring by the opposite-gender parent may reduce alcohol-related problems by helping to limit impulsiveness.
The finding was surprising, and the authors offered possible explanations for the impact of the opposite-gender parent on drinking behaviors. One suggestion was that the young adult learns what choices the opposite gender values by discussions with the opposite-gender parent.
The study’s findings once again reinforce the importance of parents in influencing behaviors related to alcohol. As their young adults leave for college, parents should seek to maintain open discussion with their children about their social plans and related decisions.