What The Wild Things Are

Understandings of Self, Awareness, and Mental Health in an Ever-Changing World

Helping kids learn to make better choices (about drinking)

Yes, parenting can make a difference.

Parents with tweens or teens often wonder how to effectively parent their children so that the kids can make sound decisions even when their parents are not around, including decisions about drugs and alcohol.

 

A recent study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs has confirmed that parenting style, in fact, does have an influence on their child's impulsiveness, including control over their drinking, and the possibility of alcohol problemsJulie Patock-Peckham, Ph.D., and colleagues broke parenting styles into three categories: authoritarian (emphasis on rules and obedience and lack of discussion), authoritative (clear rules and instructions but open to discussion), and permissive (behaving more like a friend than a parent).  Of these three groups, the authoritative parents were most likely to do a better job of monitoring their child's social life and plans, and these kids were the least likely to act impulsively and have problems with alcohol. 

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The most surprising aspect of the study was the discovery that parental gender also plays a factor - and that it is the opposite gender that plays the bigger role.  In other words, girls with authoritative fathers displayed fewer impulsive symptoms including alcohol-related problems; similarly boys with authoritative mothers displayed more self-control.  Conversely, kids whose opposite-gendered parents were perceived as permissive were linked to more impulsivity and alcohol-related problems.  The authoritarian parenting style did not serve to gain the parents access to monitoring their child's life and therefore did not give them an advantage in that way.

 

The reason for the gender significance is not yet understood, but it certainly underlines the importance of a parent's gender in unexpected ways.  Opposite-gendered parents can feel at a loss, at times, on how to parent the unfamiliar, especially as a child moves into puberty.  It turns out that parent's role is not diminished, and instead plays a crucial role in their child's continuing development.  It is crucial for the opposite-gendered parent to be clear about the rules and expectations for their child, but to also cultivate an atmosphere where the child feels comfortable talking things over with the parent and sharing with them what is happening in that child's life.

 

 

Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Samantha Smithstein, Psy.D., is a clinical and forensic psychologist and co-founder of the Pathways Institute for Impulse Control in San Francisco.

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