Astrid Jander Astrid Jander Sacha Ruland Fotografie

Parents have an influence on drinking adolescents

In Mind
Written by  Nicole Kluijtmans Thursday, 21 January 2016 11:47

Parents have far more influence on the drinking behaviour of their adolescents than they realise. Setting clear boundaries and communicating well with your child can ensure that he or she does not succumb to excessive drinking behaviour. This is the conclusion reached by psychologist Astrid Jander in her thesis entitled Alcohol Alert with which she gained her doctorate on Thursday, 21 January 2016 at Maastricht University. “The majority of adolescents who took part in my research stated that outside of their homes they also took into account the agreements made with the parents.”


For her PhD, Astrid Jander investigated the effects of interventions – such as a specially developed computer game – on the drinking behaviour of young people aged 16 to 18 years. Compared to their European contemporaries, Dutch young people are heavy drinkers. The so-called binge drinking - risky drinking behaviour in which on an occasion girls drink more than four glasses or boys more than five – is quite common among Dutch teenagers. According to a study from 2011, 57% of 16-year-olds and 62% of 17 and 18-year-olds drink more than is good for them at least once per month.

Four glasses is already too much
"The term binge drinking is relatively unknown. Many people confuse it with drinking yourself into a coma. Young people think that you have only drunk too much if you can no longer communicate normally and are lying thoroughly plastered in a corner. If you then explain that four or five glasses of alcohol at a party, for example, can already be harmful, nearly everybody responds surprised. That applies to young people but also to their parents,” explains the psychologist. Binge drinking is not without risks, especially if such behaviour starts at a young age. “The brain develops until the 24th year of life and then, in particular, the part of the brain that affects the problem solving capability and assessment skills. As the age limit was previously 16 years and is now 18 years many people think that drinking from the age of 18 years onwards cannot do any harm. That is, however, a big misunderstanding.” Besides permanent brain damage, possible consequences of excessive alcohol consumption are aggression, unwanted pregnancies, traffic accidents, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Nevertheless drinking is socially accepted and Dutch young people aged 18 years and older may legally buy and consume alcoholic drinks.

Parents feel powerless
Astrid Jander wanted to gain an insight into how adolescents deal with alcohol at home and outside the home. Her research reveals that young people mainly drink in the weekends. Most are given their very first drink by their parents. Many adolescents therefore think that their parents do not mind if they drink outside the home. Parents on the other hand indicate that they are not happy with the drinking behaviour of their children but that they feel powerless because the children can legally buy and consume alcohol. Many parents stop setting rules as soon as their children are legally old enough to consume alcohol. Jander's main conclusion is that parents and young people do not communicate clearly with each other about alcohol use. “As a parent you can have a considerable influence on the behaviour of your children. The majority of adolescents who took part in my research stated that outside of their homes they also took into account the agreements made with their parents.” This means that in practice, they might extend the boundary occasionally and drink a few more glasses but they will probably not drink excessively out of respect for their parents.”

Difficulty with refusing a drink
It is important how the message is given. “Better a qualitatively good conversation than twenty poor conversations. Take a quiet moment for the conversation. Think carefully about what you want to tell your child and why. Take your child seriously. Respond to what he or she says and put yourself in their shoes. Search together for a solution to prevent binge drinking because young people find it difficult to refuse a drink, as they do not want to fall outside of the group,” notes Astrid Jander. Her tips include: choose a stop moment together, drink slowly, switch between alcohol and soft drinks, go and dance more or think of a good excuse not to drink. She has also incorporated these steps into a two-dimensional computer game Watskeburt?! that has been developed in collaboration with the company Goal 043. During the course of the game in which the drinking situations in the pub, at a party and at home with friends are simulated, the players are given personalised tips via a pop-up screen.

High dropout during interventions
“The idea to develop a serious game as a form of intervention arose during the initial conversations with the focus groups. The game also proved to be effective; at least in 15 and 16-year-old players binge drinking occurred less. But unfortunately many participants also dropped out early, especially older adolescents. That is what you also see in other Internet interventions. You reach a lot of people but you also lose them again,” reasons the psychologist. In addition, some people might have experienced the game as confrontational or too personal because we asked them for personal details such as the drinking behaviour of people in their immediate environment.” Jander is nevertheless convinced that with a few adaptations the game can be successfully deployed as an intervention method to inform young people about the consequences of binge drinking. Jander's PhD research was also made more difficult because halfway through, in 2014, the legal age for drinking in the Netherlands was raised from 16 to 18 years. “Of course that is a good development. Now at least it is clear that drinking at a young age is not healthy. However, I am not sure whether the age limit should be raised even further still. In the United States you may not drink as an 18-year-old but you can join the army and be shot dead in Afghanistan. I think that is hypocritical. It also gives rise to dangerous situations. Because drinking there is almost seen as a crime, an ambulance is not called if young people drink themselves into a coma or develop alcohol poisoning. You do not want that either.”

Astrid Jander gained her doctorate on 21 January 2016 at Maastricht University for her thesis entitled ‘Alcohol Alert - The development and evaluation of a Web-based computer-tailored game to reduce binge drinking among adolescents’. Prior to her PhD she worked at the Department of Health Promotion van de Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University.

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