Can helicopter parenting lead to college binge drinking?

Posted August 22

Children of helicopter parents, or parents who constantly hover and push their children, can have problems with risky behaviors later in life like binge drinking. (Deseret Photo)

For college students, fall semester is just around the corner. The start of school comes with homework, football season, and yes, partying.

"Many students come to college with established drinking habits, and the college environment can exacerbate the problem," according to a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism report. "According to a national survey, almost 60 percent of college students ages 18-22 drank alcohol in the past month, and 2 out of 3 of them engaged in binge drinking during that same time frame."

College binge drinking problems may stem from when a child is subjected to certain parenting styles, according to research.

For example, a BYU study (paywall) cited research showing children of helicopter parents, or parents who constantly hover over and are overly involved with their children, can have problems with risky behaviors later in life.

According to the Parent Herald, many parents want to foster an academically successful child. They often enroll them in prestigious schools and monitor their academic life in hopes they will end up in a successful career. "Most of the time these parents are successful in their endeavor, but it entails subjecting a child to a life where he/she must have a school performance filled to the brim with extremes."

Caitlin Flanagan wrote in the Atlantic that not only are helicopter parents extremely invested in their child's academic success, they closely monitor their drinking habits.

Flanagan said helicopter parents are allowing their children to drink at home under their supervision instead of going out to drink in secret and subjecting themselves to danger.

"Drinking isn't like doing drugs — it's not something parents recoil from in horror," she wrote. "It is something they can make an accommodation for, and so they practice 'social hosting,' as the law refers to the custom: allowing teens to get hammered in the comfort and safety of the rec room."

And when kids get to college, they often engage in the popular "party culture" fostered on most college campuses.

Flanagan cited a study published in the American Journal of Health Education that found "77 percent of college freshmen 'drink to get drunk' — and what today's college students call being 'drunk' is oftentimes something an expert would define as being blackout."

She wrote: "The students at the center of this culture are most likely to be the children of white, college-educated parents, young people whose free time is probably spent not working to help support themselves, but rather participating in certain activities, most notably Greek life and athletics."

There are other reasons college students may drink.

According to a report from researchers at the University of Minnesota, students drink because they think alcohol makes it easier to meet other people, relaxes their social inhibitions and helps them have more fun.

While young adults drinking in college may be unavoidable, there are some ways parents can encourage their kids to be smart about it.

Parents who establish open communication with their kids, show empathy and offer acceptance may alleviate a child's desire to binge drink in college, according to Also, when talking to your children about the dangers of alcohol, avoid scare tactics. "It is important to discuss the consequences without overstating the case."

Even when it doesn't encourage drinking, over-involved parents can cause more harm than good to their college-bound students. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, about four-in-10 parents said too much parental involvement in their child's academic pursuits is a bad thing, "a view that is particularly common among parents with more education and higher incomes."

Parents must understand that even if helicopter parenting is done with warmth and good intentions, it does not eliminate the negative effects entirely, according to the 2015 BYU study.

"That doesn't mean you shouldn't be warm and supportive," Laura Padilla Walker, an author of the study and professor in the School of Family Life at BYU told the Deseret News. "By all means, stay available for your young adult children and involved in their lives in appropriate ways. Just be careful not to be over-involved."


Twitter: megchristine5


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