LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Teenagers may have an especially hard time being prudent when it comes to drinking. Studies show that friends play a big role in the decision to take that first drink. But parents also can have an effect, as NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.
ALLISON AUBREY: Lots of teenagers seem to have a thing for posting drunken videos on YouTube - which can be absolutely dizzying to watch.
Unidentified Woman #1: There's not much really going on right now.
Unidentified Woman #2: Here, beautiful face.
Unidentified Woman #1: Thank you. There's alcohol, a field...
AUBREY: In this video, the camera makes dramatic whip-turns as a gaggle of teens gulp spiked lemonade and dance in a big, open field.
(Soundbite of music)
So how do parents make sure their kids don't end up dangerously drunk on YouTube? Aimee Stern, who's written a book on delaying teens' first drink, has thought a lot about the issue.
Ms. AIMEE STERN (Author, "Delaying that First Drink: A Parents Guide"): You know, parents get really frustrated with teenagers. I have two of them and, you know, you cannot tell them anything that number one, they don't already know, and two, that they won't argue with you over.
AUBREY: So if teens can be so hard to reach, how can parents lay the groundwork for good decision-making while at the same time acknowledging that most kids -at least 65 percent of them - will try alcohol by the 12th grade? Well, one of the biggest studies ever done investigating how parenting styles influence the likelihood of binge drinking points to some fascinating clues.
In this study, researcher Stephen Bahr, at Brigham Young University, surveyed some 5,000 teens.
Dr. Stephen BAHR (Researcher, Department of Sociology; Brigham Young University): We asked them how many had taken five or more drinks in a row within the past two weeks.
AUBREY: That's typically the definition of binge drinking. Bahr and his colleagues also asked about occasional drinking. And they asked the kids about their parents: What kinds of rules did they have? Were they strict, or were they indulgent?
To demonstrate what these different parenting styles might sound like or feel like, I enlisted the help of a couple of my colleagues - who both, as it turns out, have teenage sons. My colleague Chris Joyce role-plays strict parenting -not that he's really like this.
CHRIS JOYCE: A strict parent is the law. The teenager lives in my house. I set the rules. You live by the rules, or you live somewhere else.
AUBREY: If it's a Friday night and I say hey, I'm going out, what do you say?
JOYCE: You can go out so long as youre not going to drink or hang out with people who drink. And if you do, you lose privileges. Boom - simple.
AUBREY: In this house, the rules would be crystal clear - as well as the consequences. But there's another style of parenting, acted out by my colleague Richard Harris. This one emphasizes warmth and trust instead of rules. In this household, if his son wants to head out to a party on Friday night...
RICHARD HARRIS: Well, of course, if he wants to go out, he can go out. And if he forgets to tell me he's going out, that's all right. You know, I'm sure he's behaving himself - or I assume he is.
AUBREY: OK, a lot of freedom there.
HARRIS: Absolutely. Well, you know, he may make some bad choices. But he'll learn from that.
AUBREY: So if you had to pick between the very strict or the super-indulgent style of parenting, which do you think would be most strongly associated with binge-drinking teens? Well, as it turns out, both of them.
In Bahr's study, the kids of indulgent parents, the kind who are supportive to a fault but offer little in the way of consequences or monitoring of bad behavior - they were among the biggest abusers of alcohol.
Dr. BAHR: They were about three times more likely to participate in heavy drinking.
AUBREY: And the same was true for kids whose parents were so strict that no decision was left up to their own judgment.
Dr. BAHR: Kids, that in that kind of environment, they tend not to internalize the values and understand as well as why they shouldn't drink.
AUBREY: Bahr says the magic combination, the one that was associated with the lowest levels of problem drinking, was a parenting style that borrowed something from each of these two extremes. From the strict parents, it's accountability and consequences. And from the indulgent parents, warmth and support.
Dr. BAHR: They recognize their kids when they do good things, and praise them. At the same time, they offer direction and correction when they get off a little bit.
AUBREY: As most teenagers, at some point, do.
Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
WERTHEIMER: For more information on teen drinking and adult drinking, check out our website, at npr.org.