Alcohol use in our culture is pervasive with effects that reach into many aspects of society and can also be seen within every level of Bronfenbrenner’s model. In many cases, exposure to alcohol, and the permissive use of it, occurs first in the home or with immediate family in the microsystem. The use within that system, and the prevailing attitudes towards it, can be the first introduction to alcohol and directly influence an individual’s present and future behaviors around drinking. The mesosystem and exosystem both have the potential to exert pressure, both as negative and positive reinforcement. Encouragement within social groups (peers) and social norms that accept a certain level of experimentation are major influencing factors faced by most teens and young adults.
These external factors can be countered within the systems by teacher interventions, school counselors, and the legal system. Cultural macrosystems have a direct bearing on the subsystems as cultural norms and laws are the standards by which use and/or abuse of alcohol will be judged both in the context of the societal and legal systems. Chronosystems, specifically in cross-cultural settings appear to be shifting. European nations, traditionally more accepting of alcohol use among adolescents, are experiencing changes in both the cultural norms and legal systems as a result of ongoing studies combined with growing binge drinking trends among teens and young adults. When it comes to adolescent alcohol use, studies and real-world outcomes make it clear permissive parenting is a choice with potentially severe consequences. INQUIRY The decision to let adolescents drink at home can be attributed to any number of factors. Socio-economics, parenting style, cultural norms, and external pressures can all contribute to this decision.
In fact, there is valid reasoning associated in some instances when parents assume “as the end of high school draws near, parents may even begin to provide alcohol or allow their teen to drink at home, rationalizing that they are teaching their children to drink responsibly and thereby reducing risk of alcohol-related consequences” (Livingston et al., 2009; Peele, 2007 as cited in Livingston, Jennifer A., Testa, Maria, Hoffman, Joseph H., & Windle, Michael, 2010, p. 1105). In studies by U.S. researchers the science on permissive parenting, adolescent drinking, and its ramifications is clear; early permissiveness in the home and undefined parental boundaries on alcohol use lead to a higher level of drinking (binge and heavy consumption) as adolescents move away from home and into early adulthood (Livingston et al,. 2009; Arria et al. 2008). There are of course many factors that ultimately influence a teen’s decisions to drink, smoke or use drugs, but from a study looking at 2,400 sixth- and seventh-graders in inner-city schools in New York City, lead author Dr. Jennifer A. Epstein, assistant professor of public health in the Division of Prevention and Health Behavior at Weill Cornell Medical College stated the important role parents play, both in monitoring peer groups and behavior and as role models, in reducing the risks the child faces as well as modeling a behavior against which the child can set future goals (Biotech Week). Other studies looking at a variety of populations concur with this finding.
In a study conducted in 2010, the “goal of the…study was to test this popular belief (supervised drinking at home) in order to determine whether permitting supervised drinking during high school reduced HED (Heavy Episodic Drinking) among emerging adult women as they transitioned from high school to college” (Livingston, et al. 2010, p. 1105). The study had a clear focus on consumption, but to fully appreciate the gravity of the study, one only has to look at the researcher’s motivation; “Nearly 75% of college sexual assaults occur as a result of the woman drinking to the point of unconsciousness or incapacitation and being unable to resist sexual advances” (Mohler-Kuo, Dowdall, Koss, & Wechsler, 2004; Testa & Livingston, 2009, as cited in Livingston et al., 2010, p.1105). As seen in this statistic, alcohol consumption in adolescents and young adult has multi-tiered ramifications. The study focused on 449 female subjects in their senior year of high school and then again in the first year of college. Participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups, 1) a control group which were not permitted to drink at all, 2) a group allowed to drink only with meals, and 3) a group allowed to drink with friends at home. Researchers concluded that in both categories 2 and 3, there was a correlation between heavier drinking in college and the permissive attitude towards alcohol at home when compared to group 1. The heaviest alcohol use in college was found in group 3.
The conclusion was that modeling, even in a responsible manner (group 2) still led to higher levels of drinking in college than a parent who did not condone drinking at home during high school (group 1) (Livingston et al., 2010). In a separate study, researchers looked at an even larger sample of a population of 1253 randomly selected male and female students, age 17 to 19, moving from high school to college. The longitudinal study interviewed subjects at the end of the senior year and then again in the first year of college. Just as in the previous study, the findings in this research found that authoritative parenting in the instance of adolescent alcohol use resulted in lower and more responsible levels of alcohol use. The findings applied across all segments of the subject base regardless of sex, race or religion. As with the prior study, the research led to the conclusion that parent’s attitudes, boundaries, and monitoring plays a critical role in determining they type of drinking habits teens will carry into young adulthood. This is not to say authoritative parenting will stop alcohol use but can play a key role in promoting more responsible use as adolescents move out of the home (Arria, Kuhn, Caldeira, O’Grady, Vincent, and Wish 2008). CULTURAL COMPARISON Though Europe and America may share the same roots, when it comes to alcohol use among adolescents the cultures of most European countries have historically been more permissive than America.
France is a country that long held itself up as a successful model in its approach to teen drinking. But that success came under scrutiny when between 2004 and 2007 France saw a 50% increase in teens being hospitalized as a result of excessive alcohol use and becoming the leading cause of death for French youth (Crumley). Betrand Nalpas, head of the alcohol and addiction offices at the French National Institutes on Health and Medical Research has seen an increase in binge drinking and heavy consumption by French adolescents. Surveys show 20% of 17 year-olds get drunk at least 3 times a month and of those teens, there is a heavy correlation to drinking at home. The World Health Organization backs up these findings and has found in 15-19 year-olds, heavy episodic drinking in France is at an average of 35.5% compared to 28% in the U.S. (World Health Organization). Even with stricter laws and an increase in the drinking age, France is still battling heavy drinking among adolescents. Nalpas points his finger at cultural influences (Varney, 2011).
Pascale Dhote, a French cardiologist and parent summed up the challenge the culture faces, ‘Even when there are little ones, people say, ‘Taste it, taste it. Wine is good. You have to taste it. It’s part of French culture – you have to try it…’’ (Varney, 2011, para 10). Nalpas acknowledges the challenge the French face and points to the hurdle they must clear to move forward. ‘The symbol of the French with the bottle of red wine and the bread and the hat. We have to change that” (Varney, 2011, para 13).