PORTLAND  — Most parents in Maine underestimate how often their high school-aged children drink alcohol, according to results of newly released surveys.


A survey of teenagers and a separate statewide phone survey of parents revealed a large gap between what parents think their children drink and what the teens report, according to Maine’s Office of Substance Abuse.


In the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey last winter, 65 percent of Maine high school teens said they’ve had at least one drink in their life, and more than 20 percent said they had engaged in binge drinking in the past month by consuming five or more drinks in a row, said Director Guy Cousins.


But in the phone survey, only 26 percent of parents said they believed their high school-aged children had ever had more than a few sips of alcohol. Less then 2 percent believed their children had engaged in binge drinking.


The results suggest that many parents don’t want to believe their children drink alcohol, while raising questions about whether some parents think underage drinking is OK, Cousins said.


“That’s concerning because of all the research we have on alcohol and its effect on the adolescent brain as it’s developing,” Cousins said. “Research shows us that kids that begin consuming alcohol before the age of 15 are five times more likely to develop an alcohol problem later in life.”


Parents can take steps to prevent their high schoolers from drinking by limiting their access to alcohol in the home, networking with other parents, enforcing rules consistently, checking in often with their children and being up when they return home from a night out, Cousins said.