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Health & Parenting

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Listen First, Then Talk to Teens About Drugs

Teens Are More Likely to Listen if Their Parents Listen Too

WebMD Health News

March 24, 2004 -- Talking to your teenager about important issues such as drugs and alcohol may not be enough. New research shows that parents have to learn to listen to their teens first.

"Whereas antidrug campaigns focus on talking to children about drugs, conversations about other topics may also be crucial," says researcher John Caughlin, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of speech communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in a news release.

Caughlin says that if parents haven't already established a pattern of listening and responding to their children on other issues, the teens aren't likely to listen when the subject turns to alcohol or drugs.

"In addition to such antidrug conversations, it may be just as important to help parents and adolescents learn constructive strategies for dealing with conflicts regarding common mundane issues," says Caughlin.

Avoiding the Demand/Withdraw Pattern

The study, published in the February issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, looked at how 57 parent-adolescent pairs interacted when discussing issues important to the parent, issues important to the adolescent, and alcohol and drug use among teenagers.

Researchers studied how often a demand/withdraw pattern of conflict was perceived or reported by the participants. This pattern is common among parents and children.

In this context, "demand" involves one person nagging or criticizing and "withdraw" refers to the other person avoiding the discussion.

The study showed that frequent demand/withdraw pattern of conflict was associated with low self-esteem and high rates of alcohol and drug use among the teenagers and parents.

Caughlin says the results indicate that to prevent the pattern of parental demand that leads to adolescent withdrawal, it's important for parents to be responsive when their children want to discuss an issue, even if it's an issue the parent's aren't particularly interested in.

"By remaining a key influence on the adolescents' norms, parents may reduce the need for explicit discussions about alcohol and drug use and increase their influence on their adolescent if they do discuss alcohol and drug use," he says.

Talk About More Than Drugs and Alcohol

Researchers say the findings may also have implications for the current media campaign that calls for parents to talk to their teenagers about alcohol and drugs.

They suggest that rather than only emphasizing the need to talk to their children about drugs, it may be "equally vital to tell parents to listen to their children."

"By all means, talk to your kids about drugs," says Caughlin, "but be sure you listen to them too."

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