Teenagers who share a good relationship with their parents may start drinking at a later age, helping them avoid alcohol related problems, according to a new study.
Past studies have suggested that the age at which kids start drinking is a key factor in whether they eventually develop alcohol-related problems, like getting into fights or having academic or work problems.
So it often has been assumed that drinking at an early age, in and of itself, is the problem, explained the study's lead author, Emmanuel Kuntsche of the Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Problems in Lausanne, Switzerland.
"Our work shows that the 'preventive effect' of a later drinking age is likely to be a side effect of a good parent-child relationship," Kuntsche said.
"In other words, the circumstances in which that first drinks occurs, and how parents deal with it, is important."
Kuntsche and colleagues surveyed 364 teenagers three times over a span of two years. They found that in general, teens who reported an earlier drinking age during the first survey tended to be drinking more heavily by the second survey. They were also at a greater risk of drinking-related problems by the third survey.
But a closer look at the data revealed the importance of parents' influence. In fact, only teenagers who reported both a later drinking age and a high-quality relationship with their parents had a lower risk of drinking problems compared to their peers.
A high-quality relationship was one where teenagers felt they could discuss their problems with their parents and that their parents respected their feelings, said a Swiss Institute release.
The findings, Kuntsche and his colleagues say, suggest that such parent-child relationships can "trigger a spiral of healthy development during adolescence" that may lead to a lower risk of alcohol problems.
The findings are scheduled for publication in the May issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.