Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Family Factors Huge in Avoiding Teenage Drinking

Sure, this is one of those studies in which academics spend a lot of time, money and energy simply to present findings that should be common sense. But common sense isn't all that common anymore and teen drinking continues to wreak terrible havoc including (but not limited to) increased crime and pregnancy rates and, of course, the crippling, killing effects of alcohol-impaired drivers.

Therefore anything that can motivate and assist adults in curbing teen drinking needs always to be trumpeted loud and clear. So here, from the World Congress of Families, is a summation of this study.

Most parents of teenagers know that a problem confined to college campuses a generation ago haunts high school communities today: alcohol use. Yet a study of sophomores in Icelandic secondary schools suggests that the increase of divorce, the lack of parental involvement with their teens, and the decline of church attendance have each strengthened the appeal of the bottle to teenagers.

Parsing data from the 2000 European School Survey on Alcohol and Other Drugs, which obtained responses from 89 percent of all tenth graders in Iceland, three Icelandic and one American sociologist measured both individual and school factors related to alcohol use among teens. In both bivariate and multivariate statistical tests, including what the researchers describe as their "best fitting model," teens living in households without a father, without a mother, or with a stepparent were more likely to drink (all three household arrangements at both test levels were statistically significant). Also statistically significant across the board: Teens were less likely to drink if they reported that their parents knew of their evening whereabouts and if teens reported that they were emotionally close to at least one parent.

Teens also were less likely to drink if they reported that they regularly attended public worship and expressed confidence in getting "support from God" when in need (p< .001 for both variables). While individual parental religiosity did not yield significant correlations with teen drinking in the multivariate tests, among teens that attended schools where parents were more religious, females drank significantly less than did males (p< .05).

For parents anxious about teen vulnerability to drinking, these findings confirm that staying out of the divorce court and taking the family to church each week are powerful tools to keep their teenagers out of trouble.

(Source: Thoroddur Bjarnason et al., "Familial and Religious Influences on Adolescent Alcohol Use: A Multi-Level Study of Students and School Communities," Social Forces 84 [September 2005]: 375-390.)