– Erik, college sophomore
College parties involving alcohol are common nationwide, and about one-quarter of all college students are binge drinkers. Twenty-year-old Erik says he is not a binge drinker, and one big reason is a conversation his mother had with him in the summer before his freshman year. “She told me, ‘I’m not naïve. I know you are going to drink. Just drink in moderation, don’t be stupid,’” Erik says.
That kind of warning, and particularly its timeliness, can be very effective, according to a study from Boise State University in Idaho. If mothers talk to their teens about alcohol during the period between high school and college, kids listen, the study found.
After one or more conversations with mom, the odds that a college student will binge drink fell from an estimated one-in-four, to as low as one-in-ten, according to the Idaho study.
A lot of what moms tell us as we grow up tends to stick with us for years, says Gary Santavicca, a family psychologist. “Whether we agree with or want to hear something that she has to say, typically since mother occupies such an important role in our lives, we are going to recall things that she communicates strongly and clearly to us,” Santavicca says.
The Idaho study also tested the effectiveness of specific warnings some mothers gave their kids. Most effective, moms should explain that drinking only makes problems worse, not better. Also, they should put into plain words how drinking could get teens in trouble with police, and how being caught drinking might lead to the publication of their arrest in the newspaper.
Erik says every time he drinks, he remembers what his mother told him about alcohol. “What bounces around in my head when I go to parties, use your head, and have a DD. All the time. Designated Driver all the time, that’s the most important thing,” Erik says.
Tips for Parents
Numerous studies conducted in recent years have noted the prevalence and dangers associated with binge drinking among college students. For example, some studies have revealed that the highest proportion of drinkers, heavy drinkers, and individuals with multiple substance dependencies have tended to be concentrated within the usual age range for college students.
According to research, some of the risks of binge drinking episodes include:
unplanned sexual activity
alcohol-related driving injuries and fatalities
sexual and physical assaults
trouble with campus and local police
Researchers have also found evidence for a relationship between parental characteristics and teen drinking tendencies. Some of the parental characteristics and beliefs associated with less teen drinking tendencies include:
parents' attitudes and beliefs about teens not drinking
limited parental alcohol consumption
parental disapproval approval of teen alcohol consumption
parental modeling of appropriate behavior
parental monitoring of the teenager
the quality of the parent—teen relationship
family management practices
A study, published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, shows evidence that discussions of the risks of binge drinking between mothers and teens in the summer immediately preceding the adolescent’s first year of college can help to reduce or prevent binge drinking episodes for those teens. The researchers found that student beliefs about the positive or negative effects of drinking predicted binge-drinking activities. Specifically, if students believe that drinking improved their social behavior or lifestyle, they were more likely to use alcohol and have a tendency to binge drink. According to the authors of the study, however, if mothers talked with students about the negative effects of alcohol and the consequences of drinking, the teens were less likely to do so. In fact, additional preliminary studies indicate that one or more mother-teen discussions before attending college can reduce the statistical risk of those students participating in binge drinking activities from 20% to 10%.
The influence of parents on their teenage children’s use and abuse of alcohol can be very strong. The following suggestions, excerpted from a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism publication, provide ideas for ways that parents can positively influence their teens’ alcohol related behaviors.
Monitor alcohol use in the home
Connect with other parents to discuss potential alcohol problems among peer groups
Keep track of your teen’s activities, particularly after-school and on weekends.
Develop family rules about teen drinking. Incorporate family values and beliefs about appropriate behavior into the family rules for drinking.
Set a good example. Modeling appropriate behavior in the use of alcohol (i.e. don’t drink and drive) can be an important teaching tool to help your teen with drinking related decisions.
Don’t support teen drinking.
Help your child build healthy relationships.
Encourage healthy alternatives to alcohol.
Boise State University
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism