Parents influence perceptions of alcohol, study finds
The Drinks Business
By Jessica Mason
September 26, 2022
Despite not drinking alcohol until adolescence, a study has found that children can internalise adult drinking behaviours from a young age.
The research, which took place in the Netherlands, was led by Dr Megan Cook and Professor Emmanuel Kuntsche, from the Centre of Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe’s School of Psychology and Public Health.
The study saw 329 children being surveyed and used an electronic task where the children attributed alcoholic drinks to a variety of persons depicted in an illustrated scenario. Alongside this, the children’s parents completed an online survey that included information on alcohol use and exposure.
The findings revealed a gender-specific effect of exposure to parents’ (particularly mothers’) drinking habits on young children’s perceptions of person-specific drinking norms.
According to the results, while most people start drinking alcohol in their adolescence, most have already internalised normative information about adults’ drinking practices as young children under eight years of age, through observational learning.
Professor Kuntsche said: “By the time consumption is initiated, it is based on years of this observational learning alongside the physical and social contexts in which children live, alcohol’s availability, price, and marketing.”
Dr Cook highlighted how “although there are a variety of potential sources, when children are at a young age parents play a primary role in observational learning and modelling”.
Importantly, according to Cook and Kuntsche, it is crucial to investigate not how much parents drink in general, but rather when they drink in the presence of children.
Kuntsche explained: “Some parents may consume alcohol frequently but only when out with adult friends or when children are in bed – so these children have zero exposure to parents’ drinking. By comparison, other parents may consume alcohol less frequently, but when they do consume, it is in the presence of their children. This early exposure is important to study because norms play a role in regulating young people’s drinking, predicting heavy and problem drinking in 17-19 year olds.”
The research illustrated that what children learn from their parents – especially mothers – is gender-specific.
Cook added: “The results provide compelling evidence of the intergenerational transmission of drinking behaviours at very young ages, and because exposure is gender-specific, it may be an important first stepping-stone toward the gendered drinking identities found in the adult population.”