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Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility
appropriate behavior or even provide instruction on how to make decisions (Jacobs and Ganzel, 1994). Learning to make decisions and live with their consequences and learn from them is an important developmental task that may be promoted or hindered by particular parenting practices. Although most parents give their adolescents increasing autonomy to make a wide range of decisions—in friendship, academics, extracurricular involvement, and consumer choices—many do so with little guidance or without letting adolescents experience the consequences of their actions. In addition, many parents provide an inconsistent pattern of restrictions and privileges (e.g., childlike restrictions about bedtime that don’t match the adult privilege of driving the family car) that may lead adolescents to make choices that are aimed at rebelling against parental restrictions or that give them adult status (such as drinking alcohol).
Other aspects of parenting, such as parental norms and attitudes regarding adolescents’ alcohol use and parents’ own alcohol use, influence adolescent risk behavior. For example, Sieving and colleagues (2000) found that, in comparison with other variables, parent norms against underage drinking showed the strongest association with adolescents’ abstention from alcohol use. In addition, parents, like other adults, may overestimate or underestimate drinking norms for adolescents, depending on their own experiences or their perceptions of societal norms. If parents believe that most adolescents drink, they may be more willing to “look the other way” when their children drink or to sponsor parties at which alcohol is served. Parents may benefit from knowing about other parents’ practices and prohibitions concerning alcohol use by their children.
Parents’ own alcohol use has also been linked to underage drinking (e.g., Pandina and Johnson, 1989), as well as to increased chance of experiencing alcohol-related negative consequences (Pandina and Johnson, 1990). However, family history of alcohol abuse and alcoholism alone may not be adequate to predict drinking patterns among children of parents with such drinking behaviors. It is possible that other factors, such as parental monitoring, personality, and stress coping strategies, mediate between family history of alcohol use and underage drinking (e.g., Johnson and Pandina, 1993; Reifman et al., 1998).
Two studies have demonstrated that sibling alcohol use is a risk factor. Of particular interest is the study by McGue and colleagues (1996) that examined the effect of both parental and sibling alcohol use on both adoptive and biological children raised in the same families: while parental alcohol use only had an effect for the biological children, sibling use had an effect on both adoptive and biological children. The effect was stronger if the sibling was similar in age, gender, and ethnicity.