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'Hands-On' Parents Help Teens Say No to Drugs

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Craig H. Kliger, MD

Feb. 21, 2001 (Washington) -- A 'hands-on' parenting approach of rules and supervision is crucial to helping kids stay away from alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs, according to a national survey of teenagers.

Results released Wednesday by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University indicate that teens with 'hands-on' parenting are at one-fourth the risk of substance abuse of those with 'hands-off' parents. The results are from a telephone survey of 1,000 teens aged 12-17, conducted by the center last October and November.

"The family is fundamental to keeping kids drug-free," said Joseph Califano Jr., CASA president and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. "Parents can do a lot more than they're doing. Moms and dads should be parents to their children, not pals."

H. Brent Coles, the mayor of Boise, Idaho, and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said, "Our success will not be measured by how many coca fields we burn. We must win the battles at dinner tables and soccer fields."

According to CASA, there are 12 actions of hands-on parenting that were measured in the teen survey:

  • Expecting to be told where a teen is going in the evening or on weekends -- and being told the truth
  • Making it clear that they would be "extremely upset" to find the teen using pot
  • Not permitting periods of more than one hour after school or on weekends when they do not know where their teen is
  • Monitoring TV viewing by their teen
  • Restricting the CDs that their teen buys
  • Being "very aware" of how the teen is doing in school
  • Monitoring the teen's Internet usage
  • Having a family dinner "most every night"
  • Having a weekend curfew for the teen
  • Having an adult home when the teen returns from school
  • Making the teen responsible for regular chores
  • Keeping the TV off during dinner

CASA reported that only one in four teens lives with hands-on parents -- those who regularly practice 10 of the 12 above steps. And nearly one in five has parents who meet the definition of 'hands-off' -- those who consistently take five or fewer of the actions.

Clinical psychologist Peter Sheras, PhD, a professor of education at the University of Virginia, tells WebMD, "You need to set limits because kids need to push up against limits. If every time they push, you give in, or you're not around to set the limits, they don't experience any boundaries, and they keep doing things that are more and more dangerous."

But how much hands-on time is really possible in today's busy-busy world? "Parents' No. 1 daily challenge is balancing work and family," Nancy Rankin, research director for the National Parenting Association, tells WebMD. "Parents are under tremendous time pressure. If we are concerned about having them spend the time with their kids that their kids need, we have to create the conditions that support good parenting." Rankin says she advocates changes to school schedules, flexible work hours, and more part-time jobs with prorated benefits.

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