Page last updated: April, 2018

Change in college students’ perceived parental permissibility of alcohol use and its relation to college drinking

The authors of paper published in the journal Addictive Behaviors state that college students who perceive their parents to hold permissive views about their alcohol use engage in heavier drinking. However, few studies have assessed perceived parental permissibility of alcohol use (PPP) longitudinally across the later college years, and few have assessed variation in changes in PPP and whether or not these changes differentially predict drinking. While other research has looked at how parent permissibility affects how much their children drink, most studies only looked at these factors at one point in time, often in the last year of high school or early in college. The researchers said that measuring how parent permissibility and drinking changed over time would give a better picture of how the two were related.

This study assessed whether PPP changed across college and used two approaches to determine whether PPP predicted binge drinking frequency and peak drinking.

The researchers used surveys from 687 Penn State students that asked about the students’ drinking habits and how much they believed their parents would approve of them drinking, gathering data at regular check points across four years of college.

Perceived parental permissibility of alcohol use increased from the last year of high school through the third year of college with males reporting significantly higher PPP by the third year of college. From 12th grade through the third year of college, between-person differences in mean PPP were positively associated with binge drinking frequency and peak drinking, and patterns of PPP change differentially predicted both drinking outcomes through fourth year. These findings suggest that PPP is a dynamic construct that may evidence important developmental changes across college and the transition to adulthood. More broadly, the results indicate that aspects of the parent-child relationship continue to change after high school and may be important as they are linked with college student risk behaviors.

Brian Calhoun, graduate student in human development and family studies and first author of the paper commented that while the study found an association between how much students thought their parents approved of drinking and how much students drank, it isn’t possible to say for sure that parent permissibility actually causes increased drinking. He added that it’s possible that parents only become more permissive after learning their kids are already drinking regularly. Still, Calhoun said, the study does offer evidence that parents’ attitudes toward drinking matter.

“We’re seeing that parenting still matters during the college years,” Calhoun said. “It’s still not exactly clear what parents should be saying to college students about drinking, but what they’re saying seems to be linked with college students’ behaviour.”

Source: Change in college students’ perceived parental permissibility of alcohol use and its relation to college drinking. Calhoun BH, Maggs JL, Loken E. Addict Behav. 2018 Jan;76:275-280.

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