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Talking to your Kids about Drinking Helps
Study shows that it can prevent harmful college drinking behavior
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A study conducted by Psychologist Rob Turrisi, Ph.D., of Boise State University found that simple parent and teen conversations about the problems of alcohol abuse helped prevent binge-drinking in college freshmen.  

In this study, which appeared in the December 2000 issue of the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, the researchers examined whether talking about the consequences of drinking affects a young person's attitudes about drinking and actual drinking behavior.  Turrisi and his colleagues surveyed 266 incoming freshman students at a "moderately sized northwestern university" who participated as part of introductory psychology class requirements. Subjects were assessed on "binge-drinking tendencies, consequences, beliefs, and mother—teen communication" 30-50 days after the beginning of the fall semester. (Turrisi, et.al, 2000)

This study is one of the first to objectively assess whether parental discussions about alcohol and drug use really make any difference in teen and young adult behavior.  The authors developed a 16-item questionnaire to measure "alcohol-based mother-teen communication" based on past research in this area.  The authors give the following examples of questions from their instrument:

  • "My mom and I have talked about how drinking could get me into trouble with the police," 
  • "My mom and I have talked about how drinking changes your personality," 
  • "My mom and I have talked about the negative consequences of mixing alcohol and sex,"
  • "My mom and I have talked about the importance of being committed to a healthy lifestyle."   (Turrisi, et.al, 2000)

The analysis of the results was complicated, and the study should be viewed as preliminary.  It is not possible to truly imply causality from a study like this. We also don't know what the drinking careers of these students will be.  Might these freshmen go on to drink even more than their peers in later years?  More research is needed.  The authors interpret their results as providing "initial support for the notion that parents who are able to convey these issues to their teens in their communications might be buffering the teens from experiencing later problems in college."  

What does this mean for parents of teenagers?  It certainly supports that idea that parents should discuss drinking and drug use with their teenagers.  The study suggests that having discussions that focus on the consequences of drinking may inoculate freshman college students from some of the binge drinking that is common on college campuses.   I don't think we need to wait for future research to take action - there are certainly no studies that suggest that parents shouldn't have these discussions.  As uncomfortable as these discussions may be for some parents, they seem to help.

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Reference: Turrisi, R., Wiersma, K. & Hughes, k. "Binge-Drinking-Related Consequences in College Students: Role of Drinking Beliefs and Mother-Teen Communications," Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, Vol. 14, No. 4.

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