Parent Power is Potent

Parents have great influence over the choices their children make about alcohol now and in the future. This fact is emphasized by the National Academy of Sciences’ report to Congress, Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility. It stresses that parents play a pivotal role in their children’s beliefs and behaviors regarding alcohol. 1

This conclusion was supported in a major analysis by researchers at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee. They conducted a meta-analysis, which synthesized a large number of previous research on parental influence on their children’s decisions about substances such as alcohol, and confirmed the power of parental influence. Meta-analysis is a statistical technique that incorporates data from many studies and makes the results more accurate. 2

There has long been extensive evidence that young people tend to make wise choices about alcohol when their parents:

  • use alcohol in moderation;
  • are unemotional about alcohol, viewing it as neither a seductive poison nor as a magic elixir;
  • teach that there are two equally acceptable choices for adults:
    1. abstain from alcohol, or
    2. drink in moderation;
  • stress that the abuse of alcohol is never acceptable by anyone of any age for any reason; and
  • teach their children moderation. 3

Teaching responsibility toward alcohol doesn’t require that young people consume alcohol any more than teaching them civics requires them to run for office or vote for president.

We teach civics to prepare young people for civic responsibility when they become adults. If we drink sensibly, and we think our children may choose to drink as adults, then we need to teach them responsibility as well.


  • 1. National Academy of Sciences and National Institute of Medicine. Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences and national Institute of Medicine, 2003.
  • 2. Allen, M., et al. Comparing the influence of parents and peers on the choice to use drugs: a meta-analytic summary of the literature. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 2003, 30(2), 163-186.
  • 3. Hanson, D.J. Alcohol Education: What We Must Do. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996; Hanson, D.J. Preventing Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol, Culture and Control. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995.