WEDNESDAY, March 16, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- College students are less likely to have drinking problems or engage in risky behavior if their parents monitor their social lives, researchers have found.
The level of monitoring is associated with parenting style and the link is stronger with the parent of the opposite gender, said the authors of the study published in the March issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
"While there's a plethora of research showing that low parental monitoring contributes to risky behavior, very few researchers have examined the effects of parental monitoring separated out by mothers and fathers. It's normally measured just with the word 'parent,'" Julie A. Patock-Peckham, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University, said in a journal news release.
She and her colleagues asked 581 students at the Missouri University of Science and Technology and San Diego State University about the parenting styles of their mothers and fathers, and their parents' knowledge of their friends and social plans. The students were also asked about their alcohol-related problems and impulsive behavior.
The parents were classified as authoritarian (emphasis on rules and obedience, and lack of discussion), authoritative (clear rules and instructions, but with open discussion), or permissive (behaving more like a friend than a parent).
Authoritative parents were most likely to effectively monitor their children (knowing about their social life and plans) while permissive parents were least likely to do so. The researchers were surprised to find that authoritarian parents didn't have an advantage or disadvantage in terms of monitoring.
"We expected an atmosphere of rules to play into monitoring," Patock-Peckham said. "But our study shows that having strict house rules does not mean that emerging adults feel that parents really know about their social life or plans."
The researchers also found that a higher degree of parental monitoring by the opposite-gender parent -- that is, father and daughter, or mother and son -- can indirectly reduce drinking problems among students by putting the brakes on impulsive behavior.
"It's well known that people who are more impulsive are more likely to struggle with control over their drinking and are more likely to experience alcohol-related problems than their less impulsive counterparts," Patock-Peckham said.
The reasons for this opposite-gender effect aren't clear.
"It's completely speculative, as this is really a new finding, but I believe it has something to do with the socialization process from one generation to the next. Perhaps it has something to do with learning how members of the opposite gender view and value certain behaviors," Patock-Peckham said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention has more about college students' health and safety.