The purpose of this study was to clarify parents' role in the initiation of alcohol use of young adolescents. Subjects included 413 adolescent-parent dyads in which the youth had not begun drinking at the end of 6th grade. All dyads were participants in Project Northland (PN), an adolescent alcohol use prevention trial. A proposed etiologic model including parent norms related to underage drinking, household alcohol-related problems, family problems, and potential mediators of parent influence was tested using structural equation modeling techniques. To explore model differences between intervention conditions, separate models were estimated for intervention and reference samples. Among the parent constructs modeled, parent norms around underage drinking exhibited the strongest relationships with 7th- and 8th-grade alcohol use. Parent norms were directly related to adolescents' alcohol-related cognitions, and thereby had a significant indirect relationship with teenagers' alcohol use. No significant differences were found between intervention and reference groups in model-specified pathways to alcohol use.