New research should give parents pause as they consider their playoff and Super Bowl party plans. According to a new study, parents who drink alcohol while watching the big game are more likely than those who abstain to use aggressive discipline on their kids.
For the study, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, researchers at Ohio State University asked 225 parents in central Ohio with kids between the ages of 2 and 12 to report on their parenting techniques and alcohol use three times a day for two weeks. The researchers made sure the timespan covered two days that are considered special occasions: Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day.
Responses from parents indicated that they were more likely to shout, yell at a child in a damning way, or spank their child when alcohol was part of their Super Bowl-watching festivities than when they drank during an average day. The researchers noted that these behaviors tend to be less severe but more frequent than child abuse or neglect.
This sort of aggressive parenting wasn’t observed when parents drank on Valentine’s Day. So what’s special about the Super Bowl?
The researchers suggest the harsh parenting behavior during the Super Bowl when parents drink has to do with the combination of stress from watching the big game and added stress for parents hosting a gathering. Those factors contrast with the romantic focus on Valentine’s Day and the fact that Valentine’s Day festivities are more likely to take place at an intimate dinner in a restaurant, without kids — a situation in which alcohol would more likely enhance relaxed and positive feelings.
Bridget Freisthler, Ph.D., lead researcher of the study and a professor of social work, told Fatherly that many of the research team members are parents, and they’ve seen firsthand how alcohol use during an event like the Super Bowl could lead to harsh punishment practices.
“I was at a Super Bowl party, and a kid stood in front of the television without realizing it,” Freisthler says. “The response from the parents in the room was heightened because of the energy, and adding alcohol to the equation can intensify those responses even more.”
Some 90% of the respondents in the study were mothers, likely because the team did most of their recruitment on social media and gained traction in a Facebook group composed exclusively of moms. They tried to get these moms to recruit their husbands, but it didn’t pan out. However, Freisthler says the assumption is that the results would likely be similar for dads.
Although some parents may choose to consider dry Super Bowl gatherings, that’s not the only way forwards. Parents worried about how drinking could affect interactions with their kids can take preventative measures like hiring a babysitter or setting up a dedicated room with fun activities for the kids, Freisthler says.
“There are different ways for parents to create environments conducive to positive parenting,” she adds. “Whether it’s stress or drinking or other factors, our hope is that parents can draw lines as to what makes them more susceptible to harsh parenting so that they can better set themselves up for positive parenting behaviors.”