Children's perceptions of parental drinking: The eye of the beholder

Gregory T. Smith, Terri L. Miller, Larry Kroll, Jean R. Simmons, Robert Gallen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Objective: Children learn about alcohol and about how to drink through modeling experience, in part. Modeling is typically studied by asking parents to describe their drinking behavior. However, children's perception of parents' drinking may differ from the way parents describe it. This study examined the degree to which children's perceptions and parents' reports agreed. Method: A sample of 177 grade-school children and their parents was drawn from a public school in Kentucky. Children completed questionnaires inquiring about their perceptions of the quantity, frequency and the positive and negative consequences of their parents' drinking. Their parents completed similar questionnaires describing their own drinking and its consequences. Results: As hypothesized, first and second grade children's perceptions of parents' drinking were unrelated to parents' self-reports: Most of these children perceived their parents as nondrinkers even though parents reported drinking. Also as hypothesized, children's perceptions and parents' reports were significantly correlated for third through sixth grade students. However, there was a great deal of reliable, but unshared variance between these older children's perceptions and parents' reports. Children's perceptions and parents' reports were consistently quite different, even when both child and parent described the parent as a drinker. Conclusions: Studies of modeling influences on children regarding drinking should assess children's perceptions of their parents' behavior rather than parents' self- reports.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)817-824
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Studies on Alcohol
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology (all)


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