A sip to warm the soul

A sip to warm the soul by prosto photos

The Chief Medical Officer’s guidance on alcohol use by young people is sometimes challenged by parents arguing that a sip might help put the child off for longer, or that a ‘Mediterranean’ approach would foster a more healthy attitude to alcohol.

This research carried out in the US may give pause for thought.

1,050 pairs of mothers (or female carers) and their 8 and 9 year old children took part in the research over a 4-year period. They were interested in what effect having pro-sipping beliefs (that this would protect their child) made to the behaviour of children.

They found a range of pro-sipping beliefs; from having a sip of alcohol could make children less likely to drink in their teenage years to that it would make them better at resisting peer influence, and report positive beliefs about allowing children to sip ranged from approximately 15% to almost 40%.

Unfortunately they also found that counter to the intuitive beliefs of those mothers there was a “strong, significant association” between parental prosipping beliefs and children’s reported alcohol use.

The researchers conclude:

The notion that early exposure to alcohol can be beneficial has a strong foothold among some parents of elementary school–aged children. More research is needed to understand how parents acquire prosipping beliefs and to test messages that effectively modify such beliefs and associated prosipping attitudes and practices among parents.

A sip to warm the soul, a photo by prosto photos on Flickr.

Just say no…

In drug education the old ‘Just Say No’ approach has been out of fashion for quite some time.  There isn’t much evidence that it was effective as a school prevention technique, but some Dutch research suggests that adapted to a home environment it may have some practical use in helping parents protect their children.

The researchers looked at whether setting concrete rules with respect to smoking and drinking would lead to changes in behaviour.

They report that setting the rules did change the behaviour of their children.  But in addition setting rules about smoking led to young people being less likely to use cannabis and early sexual intercourse, while setting rules on alcohol use also reduced early sexual intercourse.

They conclude:

This study showed that concrete parental rule setting is more strongly related to lower levels of risk behaviors in adolescents compared to the more general parenting practices (i.e., support and control). Additionally, the effects of such rules do not only apply to the targeted behavior but extend to related behaviors as well.

Parents, School and Sport

A fair amount of our thinking on protective factors that may help prevent drug and alcohol problems in teenage years has focused on the roles of good parenting, school attachment, and sports as a diversionary activity.

This piece of research from the US gives us a slightly more nuanced view.

The researchers make the distinction between protective factors which they describe as being ‘effective for those identified as high risk takers’ and promotive factors which are effective for all.

The results come from looking at responses from over 36,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 16.

The abstract of the paper says:

Although parental monitoring was associated with lower alcohol and marijuana use among all adolescents (i.e., promotive effect), these effects were strongest among the highest risk takers (i.e., protective effect) and females. School bonding was associated with lower levels of both alcohol and marijuana use among all groups of adolescents, but these promotive effects were weak.

However, the findings about being involved with sport is more complex.  They found that participation was associated with higher levels of alcohol use among all males and younger girls who were not identified as risk takers.  Sports was however a positive effect around cannabis use for older girls, particularly those most at risk of drug use.

They conclude:

Overall, these findings suggest that of the three mechanisms studied, parental monitoring emerged as the most promising entry point for substance use prevention and intervention across groups, particularly for females and high risk-taking adolescents.

Parenting: set clear rules

The Center for Substance Abuse Research in the US says:

students whose parents set clear rules for them “a lot” or “often” were less likely to report using illicit drugs in the past year (12% and 21%, respectively) than students whose parents never set clear rules (49%). Similar results were found for having parents who punish them for breaking these rules…

Be home in time for dinner?

Home Alone by Stéfan
Home Alone, a photo by Stéfan on Flickr.

We’ve often pointed to the evidence that having dinner together as a family appears to have a protective effect on young people when it comes to substance misuse. However, that’s now being challenged by researchers from the University of Minnesota who say that once you control for other factors dinner may not be all that important.

“Meals may afford a regular and positive context for parents to connect with children emotionally, to monitor their social and academic activities, and to convey values and expectations. This is what we suspect is driving any causal relationship between family dinners and child well being. But, family dinners also appear to be part and parcel of a broader package of practices, routines, and rituals that reflect parenting beliefs and priorities, and it’s unclear how well family dinners would work unbundled from the rest of that package.”

Does that mean we should alter our advice that eating regularly as a family is an important way of preventing drug misuse?  I don’t think so as it may well be that the rituals that the researchers talk about are in part developed around the family dinner table.

Parental Substance Misuse in Scotland


Thought this was interesting:

Parental substance misuse in Scotland is a widespread and serious problem. Reported figures of the number of children and young people affected vary, with current best estimates showing that up to 60,000 children under 16 years old have a parent with a drug problem (Hidden Harm, 2003) and up to 65,000 children under the age of 16 have a parent with an alcohol problem (Scottish Government, 2009).

Parental monitoring and prevention: what makes a difference

The recently published Understanding Society research found that for 15 year-olds, staying out late is associated with risky behaviours in particular, going to pubs, drinking alcohol and ever using cannabis.

This reinforces one of the standard recommendations to parents, worried about whether their child may start to drink or take drugs, to ensure they know where their child is when they go out and who they are with.

Research generally supports the idea that ‘parental monitoring’ is important, but does it offer any further help to parents?

This paper looks at four different ways of thinking about ‘parental monitoring’ which may affect the amount of knowledge parents have about their son or daughter’s activities, friends, feelings or opinions:

  •  parental monitoring behaviour;
  •  parental psychological control
  • parent-adolescent relationship quality; and
  • parent-adolescent communication.

The authors point out that although monitoring is generally a positive, protective action, some related behaviours can be negative, for example, ‘parental psychological control’ describes behaviour which is intrusive, manipulative, and disrespectful.

‘Parent-adolescent relationship quality’ describes the extent to which the relationship is loving responsive, and involved. Researchers most often define relationship quality as adolescents’ perceptions of their parents as involved, accepting, and emotionally and physically available. One of the criticisms is that studies have not focused enough on parents’ own perspectives.

Other theories of relationships may help us understand parental monitoring and their children’s reactions. For example, Strachman and Gable (2006) describe two types of commitment: approach and avoidance. Approach commitment has as its goal the desire to maintain the relationship and see it grow. Avoidance commitment has as its goal the desire to prevent relationship damage. Young people may be torn between a desire to build the relationship with their parents by sharing information (approach) and the fear that information disclosed could damage the relationship (avoidance).

’Parent-adolescent communication’ relates closely to the other ideas: it is part of parental monitoring behaviour (communicating expectations, asking questions); it can be psychologically intrusive or controlling; and it can both reflect and influence relationship quality.

Asking isn’t enough

Research by Stattin and Kerr (2000) found that what parents knew about their children’s movements was dependent almost exclusively on how much their kids chose to share with them, rather than how much the parents asked or the boundaries they set.

In contrast, Soenens et al. (2006) found that parents’ behaviour (e.g. asking) did have a direct impact on what they knew, however it also worked indirectly, affecting the amount of information that young people chose to disclose to their parents. Where parents acquired more knowledge about their children’s whereabouts and activities, this was associated with a lower probability of adolescent problem outcomes.

Other research, not directly on parental monitoring, but on patterns of communication, may be relevant. For example, one particularly damaging pattern of marital conflict is demand/withdraw, which involves one person nagging or criticizing while the other person avoids the topic. Research on parent-adolescent communication found that this pattern of conflict (on any subject, not just alcohol or drugs) was associated with low self-esteem and high alcohol and drug use for both adolescents and parents (Caughlin and Malis, 2004).