For Kids, Superbowl & Drinking Can Mean Tougher Discipline From Parents

Parents who imbibe while watching the Super Bowl are more likely to use aggressive discipline on their children than those who abstain during the football game, a new study reports.

What’s interesting is that moms made up more than 90% of the parents in the study, noted lead researcher Bridget Freisthler, a professor of social work at Ohio State University.

“The links between alcohol use, aggression and watching violent sports have been studied almost exclusively among men,” Freisthler noted in a university news release.

“This is the first study we’re aware of that shows women may also be affected to act more aggressively by the combination of alcohol and watching violent sports like pro football,” she continued.

Another finding: Parents who drank on Valentine’s Day were actually less likely to use aggressive discipline on their children than those who didn’t drink.

Aggressive discipline could involve spanking or shaking a child, researchers said. It also might involve shouting or yelling at a child in a demeaning way.

These behaviors can be less severe than official child abuse or neglect, yet more frequent, researchers noted.

This new study drew on data gathered by a larger project, in which researchers asked parents in central Ohio to report on their alcohol use and parenting techniques three times a day for 14 days. All the parents had a child between the ages of 2 and 12. 

The two weeks in this study covered both the Super Bowl in February 2021, with 255 participants, and Valentine’s Day one week later, with 184 participants.

On most days, researchers found no relationship between alcohol use and aggressive discipline. The results of Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day stood out.

The new study was published Dec. 13 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Most studies that examine alcohol use tend to focus on people’s day-to-day drinking habits, ignoring special occasions where drinking may be anything but typical, Freisthler said.

“When you ask about typical drinking behavior, people may say they usually only have one beer a day,” she said.  “But on the Fourth of July they may say they have four beers. That could be a big difference.”

These results highlight “why we think drinking on special occasions deserves more attention,” Freisthler said.

There are many potential reasons why moms who’ve been drinking during the Super Bowl might be more inclined to use aggressive discipline, Freisthler said.

“When you add stress and alcohol, that is not a good combination. There’s the stress of the game, particularly if you’re invested in one of the teams. If mothers are hosting a Super Bowl party, that’s another level of stress,” Freisthler said.

“And for mothers, if their husbands are invested in the game, they may feel it is their job to keep the kids quiet and out of the way of the TV,” she added.

In contrast, the romantic emphasis on Valentine’s Day might be the reason there’s less aggressive discipline linked to alcohol, Freisthler said.

Parents who are drinking might be more likely to be dining at a restaurant, on a romantic dinner away from the kids, she said. They also might feel less stress than normal, and alcohol could enhance their relaxed good feelings.

However, Freisthler suspects there are probably more special occasions during the year that are like the Super Bowl rather than Valentine’s Day.

Holidays like Christmas and the Fourth of July often involve large gatherings of people and children, with larger quantities of alcohol being downed than is usual, she said.

“We need to understand how much parents are drinking on special occasions, how that differs from their normal drinking behaviors, and how is that related to their parenting,” Freisthler said. said. “That’s what we are trying to get at in this study.”

Parents who are concerned about how drinking might affect their discipline can take preventive measures during special days short of teetotaling, Freisthler said.

They might hire babysitters or ask relatives not interested in the game to look after the kids during events like the Super Bowl. They also might set aside a special room with fun activities for the kids.

“Parents need to create environments that are most conducive to positive parenting and reduce the risk of harsh parenting,” she said.

More information

Harvard Medical School has more about disciplining children.

SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, Dec. 13, 2023