LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Helping parents of college-bound students better understand alcohol consumption patterns and other parents’ attitudes reduces the amount their children drink in their first month at school, according to Loyola Marymount University researchers.
The researchers also found that parent education makes it less likely that students who did not drink in high school will start drinking when they begin college.
The study focused on a program designed to help parents avoid “parent peer pressure” by showing them that other parents are not as laid back and permissive as they may believe.
“We tend to think of peer pressure as something that only young people have to deal with,” said Joseph LaBrie, a professor of psychology at LMU and the lead author of the study. “But all of us implicitly feel a need to conform to what we think everyone else is doing.
“The problem is that, when it comes to health behaviors, we are often wrong in our perceptions of how others are thinking and behaving.”
In the study — funded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and published this month in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors — parents of incoming college freshmen were randomly assigned to attend either the interactive alcohol presentation or a control session during summer orientation.
In the presentation, researchers polled parents about their attitudes and perceptions surrounding alcohol use.
“The live results showed parents were underestimating how much their child would drink in college, underestimating how often parents communicate about alcohol with their kids, and, most importantly, overestimating how ‘chill’ other parents are about underage drinking,” according to LMU.
Four months later, after their first month in college, the freshman class was surveyed about their drinking habits. Students whose parents had been randomly assigned to the interactive presentation averaged just over three drinks per week, while the students whose parents were in the control group averaged nearly five and a half.
Among the 40 percent of students who did not drink alcohol in the last months of high school, those whose parents came to the interactive intervention were 65 percent less likely to start doing so during the fall semester.
The parent intervention even worked among heavier-drinking students: those whose parents participated in the program were significantly less likely to binge drink or to experience negative alcohol-related consequences like missing classes, getting sick or having unwanted sexual encounters.
“Parents play a bigger role in shaping their children’s alcohol use than either group may realize — even during college years,” LaBrie said.
“Our research shows parent programs that stress the difference between perception and reality can have a strong impact in reducing the likelihood of dangerous drinking among college students.”