Who is Talking to Our Kids about Underage Drinking?
Not enough parents or the media, says a new national poll
Arlington, VA.-- Fewer than half of parents have spoken with their kids about alcohol to prevent underage drinking, even though studies show that parents are the leading influence of teen drinking behavior.
In fact, most parents wish the media would offer more resources, like they do for suicide prevention or eating disorders when they cover news related to underage drinking. Of the many risky behaviors that could threaten the life of youth, drinking is one of the least likely topics for parents to broach, with more parents having conversations about seatbelt use, bullying and wearing bicycle helmets. Just 18% of parents say they’ve talked with their child “extensively” about the dangers of underage drinking. This, despite the fact that 90% believe that underage drinking can impair a young person’s school performance, athletic performance, and recovery time, even when they aren’t actively intoxicated.
Responsibility.org commissioned a survey of 3,000 Americans on December 17 and 18, 2021, as part of its ongoing mission to eliminate underage drinking. The organization’s Ask Listen Learn: Kids and Alcohol Don’t Mix program approaches underage drinking prevention in a unique way. Using science and evidence-based research about the developing brain and combining it with animated videos, it allows parents and kids to have open lines of communication about reasons to say NO to underage drinking.
“It’s vitally important for parents to talk openly and candidly with their children about the risks of underage drinking – and they should begin these conversations before their kids become teenagers,” said Maureen Dalbec, COO & SVP Research & Data Analysis for Responsibility.org. “Regrettably, this survey shows that far too many parents are not having these discussions, even though they recognize how important it is to talk about other things to keep their children safe.”
The finding that parents are not speaking to their children about the potential effects of underage drinking, despite knowing that alcohol can hurt developing bodies, may be related to the fact that just 20% of American adults believe that parents have the greatest influence on a young person’s underage drinking behaviors. Nearly half (45%) believe that peers or siblings have the greatest influence, followed by social media (18%), TV or movies (6%), teachers or school curriculum (2%), and radio or music (2%).
But parents may very well be selling themselves short.
In trend data reaching back to 1991, youth between the ages of 13 and 17 report their parents have the strongest influence on their decisions to drink or not drink alcohol, with their influence increasing from 55% in 1991 to 65% in 2021. The fact that parents continue to wield more influence over their children’s drinking than friends, teachers, siblings, and the media may mean that parents are the ones missing an opportunity to impact their kids’ choices about the effects of alcohol on their developing brains and bodies.
But the point should not be lost that at a time of great division on issues of concern across the nation, 93% of Americans agree that the media has missed opportunities to educate young people or suggest solutions when reporting on alcohol-related tragedies—for example, in reports on fatalities caused by underage drinking. Often, news stories featuring suicide, child abuse or domestic violence are followed with a public service hotline number or website address so people affected by similar issues can locate a resource to help them. Responsibility.org has resources available, and the Ask Listen Learn underage drinking prevention program is one of them.
Other survey findings include:
- Mothers are more likely to have talked with their child extensively about underage alcohol use than fathers, with 22% of mothers and just 14% of fathers having had this discussion.
- While almost half of parents (46%) said their child’s family history includes either alcoholism or substance abuse, only 39% of these parents say they have talked with their child in depth about that family history.
- The 43% of parents who say they have talked with their kids about underage drinking lags significantly behind similar discussions on other important topics – including:
- seatbelt use (69%)
- bullying (64%)
- healthy nutrition (64%)
- vaccinations (57%)
- healthy sleep habits (55%)
- communicating with strangers online (54%)
- wearing helmets on bicycles (52%)
- what to do in a fire (52%)
- tobacco use or vaping (47%)
- guns (46%).
Only topics parents have avoided more than alcohol: sex (42%) and cannabis (32%).
Besides deciding who speaks to kids about alcohol and the dangers of underage drinking, there is the question of how, as more than three-quarters (77%) of Americans also believe it can backfire when parents are too strict about restricting alcohol, leading kids to rebel and drink even more when out of the home. About half (49%) believe parents can help “demystify” alcohol use by allowing children to experiment safely with drinking at home.
“It’s up to all of us—whether we are parents or not—to help make sure kids and teens understand the dangers associated with underage drinking. We cannot afford to leave it to others in hopes that kids will learn the facts about decision making in order to keep themselves, and everyone else, safe and substance-free,” concluded Ms. Dalbec.
Responsibility.org is a national not-for-profit that aims to eliminate drunk driving and work with others to end all impaired driving, eliminate underage drinking, and empower adults to make a lifetime of responsible alcohol choices as part of a balanced lifestyle. Responsibility.org is funded by the following distillers: Bacardi USA, Inc.; Beam Suntory Inc.; Brown-Forman; Campari Group; DIAGEO; Edrington, Mast-Jägermeister US, Inc.; Moët Hennessy USA; Ole Smoky, LLC; Pernod Ricard USA; and William Grant & Sons. For 30 years, Responsibility.org has transformed countless lives through programs that bring individuals, families, and communities together to inspire a lifetime of responsible alcohol choices. To learn more, please visit www.Responsibility.org.
In 2003, Responsibility.org, alongside a team of educators and organizations specializing in elementary- and middle schoolers, developed Ask, Listen, Learn: Kids and Alcohol Don’t Mix. Ask, Listen, Learn is a completely free digital underage drinking prevention program for kids ages 9-13 (grades 4-8) and their parents and educators with the goal to reduce underage drinking. The information provided throughout the program guides adults with ways to start communicating with kids about alcohol and the developing brain– and how to continue talking to them as part of a lifetime of conversations. Ask Listen Learn is the most widely distributed underage drinking program of its kind.
Survey Methodology: Responsibility.Org in collaboration with Breakthrough Research conducted a digital survey of 3,000 American adults, December 17-18, 2021. Results are representative of American adults in terms of age, race, gender, region, income, and education level. The margin of error is +/- 1.8% +at the 95% confidence level.