Parents urged to talk about alcohol

Parents can have more impact on their college-age children’s drinking habits than they might think.

That’s the message Ralph Castro, associate director of health promotion services and assistant dean of student life, wants to impart to Stanford parents who worry that too much intervention into their children’s lives may label them dreaded “helicopter parents.”

In fact, Castro says, research suggests that alcohol consumption may be the single most important area where parents should shed their concerns about over-involvement and engage openly and honestly with their children.

Castro bases his advice on research done for a consortium of about 20 universities that includes Stanford. The research was done by the company that manages the online AlcoholEdu program required of all Stanford freshmen prior to their arrival on campus.

“The research asked whether parent involvement could affect outcomes with alcohol,” Castro said. “In a nutshell, the answer is yes. Kids who have talked to their parents about alcohol have fewer problems.”

Defining expectations

He explained, “Just having a conversation appears to be enough to affect alcohol use. But if I could give advice, I would recommend that parents clearly define their expectations and say what they consider appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Past research has shown, for instance, that nondrinkers—when asked why they don’t drink—will say: ‘Because my parents don’t want me to.’”

Castro said the conversations are pertinent even after the freshman year because of the distinctive pressures faced in each year of college. For example, sophomores may only begin drinking when rushing a fraternity or sorority. Seniors, he said, may begin to drink excessively only when faced with the end of school and the uncertainty of the future. The continuing conversations should also include such touchy subjects as the relationship between excessive drinking and unplanned and regretted intimacy.

Castro says his own research suggests about 75 percent of Stanford students have talked to their parents about alcohol. But, he acknowledges, some parents may be avoiding such conversations because they are concerned about “opening up the can of worms” of their own collegiate alcohol and drug use. Many parents, he says, attended college when cultural norms may have encouraged behavior now understood to be dangerous.

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