Parenting Styles


Mothers Against Drunk Driving®

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How to use this guide

Underage drinking poses a special risk to young people. It’s illegal and dangerous. This topical guide urges parents to: • Talk early, and talk often. Use recommended strategies to talk with your child about alcohol, even if it does not seem like they are interested in alcohol.

Read the parenting style summaries here and think about how your family communicates. Set a family rule of no alcohol use before age 21. Agree on consequences for breaking the no-use rule; enforce “zero tolerance.”


What’s Inside

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A MESSAGE TO PARENTS FROM DR. TURRISI AND MADD Research shows that kids who drink are a danger to themselves, their friends, and others. For over 20 years, hundreds of high quality clinical studies in the United States and Europe have shown that the earlier in life kids drink, the more severe the problems they face in the short and long term. Science shows that a child’s brain works differently from an adult’s brain. It is important to realize that no matter how mature kids act they are not simply small versions of adults. Kids’ brains are still in a critical period of development well into their 20’s. Alcohol interferes with how brains and bodies grow. As a parent, you have power to equip your child to make smarter, safer choices and to help prevent tragedies. This topical guide will help you understand your parenting style and its effect on your child’s choice to drink alcohol. We urge you to read MADD’s full parent handbooks, found at powerofparents, for more information on how to talk with your middle or high school-aged child to help shape the choices they make regarding alcohol. These conversations will have an impact on their physical and emotional development and could be lifesaving.

This is the second in a series of five topical guides. Download MADD’s full parent handbook at


A Message to Parents

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Why should I worry about alcohol? shows that parents are an important influence on whether or not your child will choose to drink alcohol. In fact, three out of four kids say their parents are the number one influence on their decisions about drinking. So, even when it seems like they might not be listening, keep talking… your words are not wasted. PARENTS DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE Despite how you may feel at times, research

Did you know? •

Kids who start drinking young are seven times more likely to be in an alcohol-related crash. Adolescent drinkers perform worse in school, are more likely to fall behind, and have an increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence. High school students who use alcohol or other substances are five times more likely to drop out of school or believe good grades aren’t important.

Although these statistics make it seem like it can be too late for you to do something about it if your child has already consumed alcohol, research shows that it is never too late! Parents who begin to have conversations even after their children start college can still make a difference in their child’s choice to not drink until they are age 21.


Parents Do Make a Difference

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WHAT STYLE PARENT ARE YOU? Parents rely on certain strategies for raising children. Do any of the parenting styles below seem familiar to you?




Compared with all young people who drink illegally, children of authoritarian style parents tend to consume the most dangerously high levels of alcohol.

Parent gives orders; “my way or the highway.”




Children of overprotective parents may not be as likely to drink illegally than kids of authoritarian or permissive, but are more likely to consume

Parent stays in control; parent rushes in & kids do not face consequences of actions.

alcohol than children of positive style parents.




When they drink illegally, kids of permissive style parents tend to have significantly higher than average blood alcohol levels compared to other underage drinkers.

Parent gives in; “kids will be kids.”




Use their authority to strengthen and protect (not control) the child. Build trust and teach decision making skills.

When a child of positive style parents does drink

illegally, they tend to consume significantly less alcohol than a child of other parenting styles.

Please note, the intent of this guide is not to judge any person for their parenting style. It is only to present, in a summary form, what relevant research says about specific parenting styles and how that relates to kids’ decisions to drink.

5 Parenting Styles

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AUTHORITARIAN Authoritarian parents tend to use parental power to control their children. • Children must do what they are told or face serious consequences. • Parents are unconcerned whether kids understand the reasons behind rules. Parents do not tolerate being asked for explanations. • Parents use threats and punishments to keep their kids in line. By focusing on obedience, these parents lose their ability to influence their teen through reasoned discussion or help them develop good thinking skills. Children from authoritarian homes often behave well around their parents to avoid punishment, but have difficulty problem solving when parents are not around to consistently state what the rules are and what will happen if they break the rules. This makes children from authoritarian homes very susceptible to “outside the home” peer influences. RESEARCH SHOWS: Compared with all teens who drink illegally, teens of authoritarian style parents tend to consume the most dangerously high levels of alcohol. !

6 Authoritarian

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OVERPROTECTIVE Overprotective parents attempt to shield their kids from the harsh realities of life. Like authoritarian parents, they exert a lot of control, but their method is different. Instead of using rules and threats, overprotective parents present themselves as allies. They see the world as a threat and express their fearfulness. They try to rescue their son or daughter from dealing with any harsh reality. Children from over protective homes tend to lack experience and may panic in stressful situations. RESEARCH SHOWS: Teens of overprotective parents may not be as likely to drink illegally than teens of authoritarian or permissive, but are more likely to consume more alcohol than teens of positive style parents.


Don’t question every parenting action: “Am I being too permissive? Am I being authoritarian?” Too much questioning can paralyze you as a parent. Instead, be careful to avoid extremes and seek a positive balance.

Q & A

Do different parenting styles work better for different kids? Research shows that positive parenting is the only parenting style that’s consistently linked with kids who make better decisions when no parents are around.

Visit to take our online quiz to find out more about your parenting style.



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PERMISSIVE Permissive parents take a hands-off approach. They: • Do not set expectations. Instead, they believe their son or daughter should be independent. • Permit kids to explore the world without “interfering.” • Feel kids should be free to make mistakes and learn from them accordingly (For example, some permissive parents believe wrongly that getting drunk teaches kids lessons about drinking. This is not true. Kids who get drunk at an early age tend to drink more often and in heavier amounts, putting themselves and others at great risk.) Permissive parents may not face as much rebellion as the authoritarian or overprotective parents do. However, overly permissive parents deprive their child of wise guidance in developing effective problem-solving skills. A child of permissive parents can come to feel neglected and believe that their parents have little interest in what they do. This, in turn, can lead to resentment. RESEARCH SHOWS: When they drink illegally, kids of permissive style parents tend to have significantly higher than average blood alcohol levels compared to other underage drinkers. !

For pointers on ways to start these conversations or reduce defensiveness on the part of your child, download MADD’s parent handbooks at powerofparents.

8 Permissive

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POSITIVE/AUTHORITATIVE Positive parents focus on empowering their children to grow and learn. They: • Take an active role in teaching responsibility. • Set clear expectations about behavior, such as waiting until 21 before drinking alcohol. • Explain reasons behind their expectations and encourage their kids to talk about any concerns. • Set and enforce consequences before agreements are not met. Positive parents know that their own age, knowledge, and experience give them more power than their children. Positive parenting can be difficult. Parents gradually must relinquish control and give kids more freedom and responsibility with each passing year. Positive parents build trust and teach skills that empower teens to take increasing control of their lives. This is generally the most effective parenting style in preventing underage drinking. RESEARCH SHOWS: When teens of positive style parents do drink illegally, they tend to consume significantly less alcohol than teens of other parenting styles. Also, research shows that parents who change to a positive style have teens who reduce their drinking behavior, demonstrating that it is never too late. !

Teens do care about their parent’s opinions. A positive parenting style can empower kids to avoid underage drinking.

9 Positive/Authoritative

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Unfortunately, the reality is that many teens at this point in their lives are still uninformed about how powerful a drug alcohol can be. Kids do care about their parents’ opinions. Talking to your child about alcohol is an important step you can take to prevent underage drinking and alcohol abuse. What is your parenting style and how does it affect your communication with your child? Be careful to avoid extremes and seek a positive balance. Two Parents Two Styles Sometimes parents have different styles. For example, a father might be authori- tarian while the mother is overprotective. This can create even more confusion for the child as he or she attempts to meet the expectations of both parents. Family Rules It is important to have clear family rules about what to do if your teen is at someone’s home and alcohol becomes present, whether or not an adult is supervising. Results from many studies indicate kids drink more often and heavier when alcohol is made available to them. The best practice is to have your son or daughter understand they should leave or call/text a trusted adult for a ride if this happens.

10 Seeking a Positive Balance

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BOTTOM LINE To help keep your child safe: • Start talking NOW. • Talk often. • Arrange opportunities to talk specifically about alcohol, but talk about other stuff too. • Read the parenting style summaries here and think about how your family communicates. • Set a family rule of no alcohol use before age 21. • Make sure your child knows the rules and the consequences. • Enforce consequences when rules are broken. • Help your child plan ahead. • LISTEN.

Download MADD’s parent handbook at powerofparents for more tips and strategies for having critical conversations with your child around alcohol and other drugs.


Bottom Line

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This series of resources can help parents substantially reduce the chance that their child will drink before the age of 21. Alcohol is the drug most commonly used by youth—more than all other illicit drugs combined. MADD’s Power of Parents handbooks are based on the latest research by Robert Turrisi, PhD at Penn State University, which when followed have shown up to a 30% reduction in underage drinking. The research- based principles and materials are not only useful to help parents have the critical discussions about alcohol with their children— from middle school through high school—but can also be applied when having discussions about all other drugs. By talking to children early and often, parents can prevent dangerous and deadly consequences from alcohol and other drugs. These intentional, ongoing and life-changing conversations will help keep youth, families and entire communities healthy and safe. Together we can create a future of No More Victims®.





MOTHERS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING 511 E. John Carpenter Frwy, Suite 700 Irving, TX 75062

877.ASK.MADD 877.MADD.HELP 24-Hour Victim Help Line


© 2017 Mothers Against Drunk Driving

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