Here’s a sobering reality: American adults are drinking more alcohol than ever. Nearly three-quarters of American adults drink alcohol, according to a 2017 study, and about 30 percent are considered “high-risk” drinkers. At the same time, drinking has arguably become a mainstay in modern parenting. Online retailers will suggest beer accessories as gifts for Father’s Day, while a glass of red or white has no doubt become part of “mommy culture.”
We set out to investigate how drinking can affect parenting, families, and their overall well-being. In the process, we surveyed 1,027 parents aged 21 to 69 on their drinking habits. We asked them what they drink, when they drink it, and how they feel about alcohol availability at social gatherings centered around children. Read on to catch a glimpse of what’s being served at American theme parks, dinner tables, and birthday parties.
Beer at the Birthday Party?
Many family functions in the United States involve alcohol. On holidays like Independence Day and Memorial Day, it’s normal for families to crack open a beer while picnicking or watching fireworks with their kids. Now, even Disney World is serving beer and wine to parents inside its Magic Kingdom theme park. Still, a large portion of parents said alcohol is inappropriate at family functions (though their feelings vary depending on the function). Our data suggest that mothers and fathers believe serving alcohol is most appropriate at holiday family gatherings, such as Christmas or Thanksgiving. More than half of both mothers and fathers also believed serving alcohol is fine at carnivals and fairs, while 62 percent of fathers felt that theme parks were also fair game (compared to a little over 49 percent of mothers). The vast majority of parents surveyed believed that schools, playgrounds, children’s museums, and school sporting events were not appropriate for serving alcohol.
Drinking isn’t always good for families. At least one study suggests that moderate drinking can make children feel anxious, embarrassed, or worried – and it can even disrupt their sleep. But even though there’s public debate on whether parents should drink in front of their children at all, our survey data suggest that nearly 61 percent of parents drink alcohol while watching their kids. While mothers tend to turn to wine and fathers to beer, both genders pick up the bottle in front of their kids for generally the same reasons. About 57 percent of parents said it’s acceptable to drink while watching their children if the purpose is “general relaxation,” while about 44 percent said it’s fine if it’s to reward themselves at the end of the day. In general, mothers were more accepting of both of these statements than fathers. Surprisingly, 43 percent said drinking around kids to cope with work stress is acceptable, while only 26.1 percent of parents said there are no acceptable reasons to drink while parenting.
Even though studies suggest that parental alcohol consumption can yield many negative outcomes for children, the truth is that many parents still drink around their kids. But interestingly enough, our survey of 1,027 parents suggests that a large portion of adults wouldn’t let other adult caretakers drink while supervising their children. About 53 percent of parents surveyed said they wouldn’t let a relative consume alcohol while watching their kids, though we previously established about 61 percent of parents do it themselves. And while roughly 68 percent of parents think it’s OK to drink after their children have gone to sleep for the night, only about 60 percent think it’s OK for other caretakers to do the same. Nevertheless, there were gender differences: Fathers were more likely to believe it’s appropriate to bring children to drinking establishments, for example.
In 1984, Congress raised the national minimum age for alcohol consumption to 21 years old. However, the median age for a person’s first taste of alcohol is typically much earlier: about 14.5 years of age, according to data collected from 2011 to 2013. We asked parents when they first tried various alcoholic drinks and what age they thought it would be appropriate for their children to first try it. In the process, we found that many parents do not abide by the legal drinking age when it comes to beer or wine. About 71 percent of parents said they felt it was appropriate to let their underage children try beer and wine, while 48.5 percent said the same for mixed drinks and liquor.
Moreover, parents generally preferred that their children try different kinds of alcohol later in life than they first did – but mothers generally felt that the first drink should happen at a much older age than fathers. For example, mothers, on average, said that it’s appropriate for kids to have a beer at age 17.5, compared to fathers who generally said 15.5 was an acceptable age. Meanwhile, mothers said the appropriate age to try liquor was 19.5, on average, while fathers said 17.9 was a sufficient age.
Way Back When
Our survey previously established that 91 percent of parents surveyed believe that it’s a parent’s obligation to educate their children on the effects of alcohol. However, our data suggest that more than half of respondents – 55.8 percent – never had that conversation with their own parents growing up. We asked survey participants how their own parents’ drinking habits affected them back in the day. Though roughly 48.2 percent said it didn’t affect them, and nearly 8 percent said they couldn’t remember their parents drinking at all, some reported negative effects. About 10.9 percent of our sample said that their parents’ drinking made them feel unsafe, while 13.8 percent said it made them feel anxious. Nevertheless, about 20 percent of respondents said watching their parents drink made them more responsible drinkers.
Studies suggest that parental drinking can lead to a slew of terrible outcomes, such as abusive parenting, child injury, behavioral problems in children, or even child substance abuse. In our survey, we found that just under 40 percent choose not to drink alcohol while supervising their children. Their reasons varied, with 57.7 percent of parents saying it’s because they want to be a role model for their kids. About 47 percent said they abstain to avoid posing a risk to their children by not being sober, while another 41 percent said not abstaining would encourage their kids to drink alcohol. A small portion of abstaining parents – 14.4 percent – said that they didn’t want to expose their children “to whom I become when intoxicated.”
Among different genders, mothers generally abstained from drinking in front of their children to be a role model or because they feared posing risks to their children by not being sober. Meanwhile, fathers were more likely to say they didn’t drink because they thought it would encourage their children to do so and because they thought their children were too young to observe such behavior.
Our survey suggests that drinking while parenting is the norm in the United States – not the exception. For that reason, our data have produced important insights into the homes of American families and what dynamics or risks might be present within. While parents generally believe they should abstain from drinking at certain child- or school-related functions, it’s clear that many view alcohol to be acceptable at major family life events. At the same time, parents would generally like their children to start drinking later than they had.
If you or someone you love is suffering from alcohol addiction, know you’re not alone. At ProjectKnow.com, we offer ressources on alcoholism and help you connect with the best treatment centers and services across the U.S. Our goal is to give you or your loved ones much-needed support.
To learn more about alcohol, addiction, and possible treatment for those suffering from alcohol abuse disorders, please visit ProjectKnow.com.
Methodology and Limitations
We surveyed 1,027 parents for this project. With more respondents, it is possible we could have gained even better insight into America’s population. Eighty-six percent of respondents said they drink alcohol, and 14 percent said they don’t. Sixty-one percent said they drink alcohol while supervising their children, and 39 percent said they don’t. The data rely on self-reporting by respondents, so no statistical testing was performed. 546 of the respondents identified as women, and 481 identified as men. Respondents ranged in age from 21 to 69 with an average age of 37 and a standard deviation of 8.5.
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