You may think that allowing your teenager to consume alcohol under your supervision at home is better for them, but a new study suggests the risk of subsequent alcohol-related problems is greater, compared to the zero tolerance approach. The authors wrote in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs that many of us believe that alcohol consumption is a normal part of teenage development, and as such we should therefore drink with our teenagers so that they can learn how to drink responsibly, rather than with strangers – this approach is known as a harm-minimization approach.

In a Zero-tolerance approach, all consumption of alcohol is prohibited if the child is underage.

In this article, the authors examined the two approaches and how they impacted on adolescent alcohol use and related harms in two communities – Washington State, USA, and Victoria, Australia. The two approaches exist in both communities.

The researchers recruited 1,945 seventh-grade students in each community, with the sexes evenly divided. The participants were asked to complete a thorough questionnaire on alcohol consumption, related problem behaviors, risk, and protective factors – a questionnaire was completed each year from 2002 through 2004, from seventh to ninth grade.

The researchers found very similar patterns linking parental approaches and alcohol use and harms in both communities.

There were more incidences of harmful alcohol consequences among the teenagers whose parents supervised their drinking at home, compared to those in a zero-tolerance setting.

59% of Australian seventh-graders said they consumed alcohol, compared to 39% in the USA. Two-thirds of Australian eighth-graders had consumed alcohol with their parents around at home, compared to just over a third in the USA.

71% of Australian ninth-graders had consumed alcohol compared to the 45% in the USA. Over one-third of the Australian ninth-graders said they had experienced an alcohol-related problem, such as vomiting, losing control, or passing out, compared to approximately one-fifth in the USA.

The authors also found that in both communities, that those who started consuming alcohol earlier had a higher risk of still being drinkers by ninth grade and having an unpleasant experience with alcohol.

Even among the teenagers who drank with their parents around had a higher risk of having alcohol-related problems. The authors suggest that the harm-minimization approach seems to encourage alcohol consumption and does not appear to instill responsible and safe drinking.

The authors concluded:

“Despite policy differences in the two states, relationships between family context variables and alcohol use and harmful use are remarkably similar. Adult-supervised settings for alcohol use resulted in higher levels of harmful alcohol consequences, contrary to predictions derived from harm-minimization policy. Findings challenge the harm-minimization position that supervised alcohol use or early-age alcohol use will reduce the development of adolescent alcohol problems.”

“Influence of Family Factors and Supervised Alcohol Use on Adolescent Alcohol Use and Harms: Similarities Between Youth in Different Alcohol Policy Contexts”
Barbara J. McMorris, Richard F. Catalano, Min Jung Kim, John W. Toumbourou, Sheryl A. Hemphill
J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs, 72, 418-428, 2011

Written by Christian Nordqvist