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Parents Affect Teens' Drug Decisions

Keeping Close Parental Watch Helps Deter Use

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 9, 2005 -- Parents may not be helpless after all when it comes to influencing their children's decisions about drugs and alcohol.

A new study shows that peers play a major role in teen drug use, but parents also play a big part by influencing who their children hang out with as well monitoring their activities.

Researchers found that when parents were tolerant about drug use, their children were more likely to have friends who used drugs. But children who felt their parents were closely monitoring their activities were less likely to use drugs or alcohol.

"Much of the previous research in this area shows that adolescents make their decisions about drugs based on influence from their friends," says researcher Stephen Bahr, professor of sociology at Brigham Young University (BYU), in a news release. "But those studies neglect the notion we found here, that some of the family characteristics help determine who teens associate with. We also found that some steps taken by parents had a direct effect on lowering drug abuse, even in the face of peer influences."

Parents Affect Teen Drug Use

In the study, researchers analyzed information from a 1997 survey of more than 4,200 U.S. students in grades 7-12. The results appear in the Journal of Primary Prevention.

The results showed that 21% of the students reported drinking alcohol, 12% engaged in binge drinking, 9% smoked marijuana, and 12.5% took hard drugs, such as heroin and ecstasy, in the in the last 30 days.

Researchers found the influence of peers on teen drug and alcohol use was strong, but it was mediated by family characteristics, such as parental tolerance of drugs and alcohol and use by siblings.

The surveyed teens were asked about identified risk factors for teen drug use including peer and sibling use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco, parental monitoring, and how they perceived their parents' tolerance of drug and alcohol use on a 5-point scale.

For example:

  • For every point increase in parental tolerance of alcohol use, the frequency of teen use of alcohol increased by 80%.
  • For every point increase in parental tolerance of marijuana use, there was a 33% increase in the frequency of marijuana use.
  • Students with an older sibling who had used marijuana or alcohol were also 50% and 71%, respectively, more likely to use these substances than those without an older sibling who had used marijuana or alcohol.

Keeping Tabs on Teens Stops Drug Use

The study also showed that parents played an important role in affecting teen drug use by monitoring their child's activities.

The frequency of drug use dropped by 10%-14% for each degree that teens perceived their parents as monitoring their activities.

"There are some who have even argued that parents don't have influence on those decisions, that kids are independent in deciding who they're going to be friends with," says researcher John Hoffmann, also a professor of sociology at BYU, in the release. "We're arguing that's not true. Parents do have influence over who their kids are friends with, and they can directly influence that by monitoring activity more closely."

"This means even if your kids are hanging out with friends who are using marijuana or hard drugs, if you are monitoring where they go and what they're doing, then you can decrease the risk that your kids will be using these substances also," says Hoffmann. "As long as kids are aware that their parents know what they're doing, they're going to be less likely to use it."

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