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 

Broken Homes, Drunken Teens

Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King

Lawmakers in every state have outlawed the use of alcohol by adolescents. But a new study out of South Africa raises questions about the efficacy of such laws so long as the nation’s no-fault divorce courts are busier than the typical sports bar after a big game.

Conducted by researchers at University of Limpopo and Mangosuthu University of Technology, this new study probes the relationship between parenting and adolescent use of alcohol. To illuminate that relationship, the researchers parse data collected from an ethnically diverse sample of 704 students (white, African, Indian) ages 16-18 attending five high schools in the Emawaleni District of KwaZulu-Natal. These data indicate that family circumstances decisively influence teen alcohol use. Statistical tests establish that parental “marital status was significantly associated with [whether] adolescents ever drank or not (p < 0.05) as 81% of the students whose parents were divorced compared to 51% students whose parents were married and living together ever consumed alcohol.”

The researchers interpret their findings in the context of “various studies [including many conducted in the United States] report[ing] lower levels of alcohol use among adolescents in two-parent families than among adolescents in single-parent families.” More broadly, the researchers see in the literature evidence that “adolescents who resided in one-parent households were more likely to participate in risky behaviours, such as using alcohol.”

The South African scholars stress that “underage drinking is a serious public health issue,” pointing out that “youths who start drinking early are at an elevated risk of using alcohol and hard drug abuse later in life.” They thus conclude their study with a call for “compulsory parenting programmes and skills development [that] should be practiced by education, health, cultural, and religious groups. Parents should be motivated to delay the age at which their children are initiated into alcohol use and be provided with guidance on how to counteract social pressures.”

But one thing should be perfectly clear to readers of this study whether they ponder its implications in Pretoria, South Africa, or Portland, Oregon: without the domestic protection provided by intact parental marriages, police and social workers are going to see a lot of inebriated adolescents.

(Muhammad Hoque and Shanaz Ghuman, “Do Parents Still Matter Regarding Adolescents’ Alcohol Drinking? Experience from South Africa,” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 9.1 [January 2012]: 110–122. )