The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Spring
2013

Filial Sobriety


Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King


With good reason, public-health officials worry about teen drinking. Those officials should attend to a new study probing alcohol use among adolescents and identifying as its causes disrespect for parents and absence of parents (caused by family disintegration).

Conducted by researchers at the RAND Corporation, this new study draws on data collected in 2008 and 2009 from 8,219 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students enrolled in 16 middle schools in southern California. These data indicate that almost one in seven (14.7 percent) of the students surveyed had used alcohol.

Further parsing of the data revealed that students manifesting certain attitudes were especially likely to resist the temptation to experiment with alcohol and that students lacking such attitudes were more likely to yield to that temptation. The attitudes protecting teens from the harms associated with alcohol use were those crystalizing in parental respect. Adolescents evincing such respect, the researchers report, were significantly less likely to have tried alcohol than teens lacking such respect (p < 0.01). Confucians would understand that (cf. The Analects 2.5). So too would Jews and Christians (Exod. 20:12; Eph. 6:1-2). But because they don’t get it, producers and script writers rain down derision and scorn on parents in America’s popular entertainment. And distillers are loving every mocking guffaw.

But the new RAND study also gives distillers reason to love divorce lawyers. The researchers find that “adolescents who . . . did not have an intact nuclear family were more likely to initiate alcohol use” during the survey period (p < 0.01). In one way, this family-structure finding inheres in the study’s parental-respect finding: it is hard for adolescents to respect a parent—particularly a father—who is simply not part of the family.

The researchers interpret their findings as evidence that “maintaining strong cultural values among family members is an important way to build resistance self-efficacy and reduce positive alcohol expectancies among younger adolescents.” Since adolescents can respect a parent only when that parent is part of their lives, the “strong cultural values” that might be most important in curtailing adolescent alcohol use are those that foster enduring parental marriages.

(Regina A. Shih et al., “Racial/ethnic Differences in the Influence of Cultural Values, Alcohol Resistance Self-efficacy, and Alcohol Expectancies on Risk for Alcohol Initiation,” Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 26.3 [2012]: 460-470.)

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