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Parents Make a Difference
Some Basic Facts
- The three leading causes of death among
adolescents--unintentional injuries, homicide, and
suicide, as well as unsafe sexual behavior--are
closely yoked to alcohol use.
- Of adolescents' emergency room visits, as many as 40% had a
positive blood alcohol level.
- A national survey found that 40% of parents think they have
little influence over their adolescent's decision to use drugs or
- Approximately 45% of parents indicate that it is likely their
teens will use illegal drugs.
- By the age of 17, approximately 12% of adolescents can be
categorized as at risk for substance abuse.
- There is a genetic component associated with the presence of
alcohol or drug dependence. In the same way that diabetes, or
hypertension, or breast cancer can run in families, the same is
true of alcohol and drug dependence.
- Adolescents consistently have a very inaccurate perception of
actual alcohol and drug use patterns of friends. High school
students in one study thought that twice as many of their peers
were regular weekly drinkers than was actually the case.
Appreciate your influence
- Parental influence operates as a natural harm-reduction
- Parents influence their children's drinking in many ways.
Through family interactions, modeling and reinforcing standards,
and attitudes that children learn and use to guide their behavior
in new situations. Thus, parental influences endure.
- An important predictor of whether a teenage boy will have an
alcohol related driving offence or accident is whether his parents
are negative (rather than neutral) about teenage drinking.
- The type of family--whether living with both parents, a
parent or step-parent, a single parent home, or living
with non-family members--is less important than the quality
of family relationships and the amount of time adolescents spend
with those they live with.
- Adolescent's perceptions of the parenting style. Teens who
view their parents generally as authoritative (know what they are
talking about), as not permissive (who have standards and clear
expectations), and as less authoritarian ("do it because I say
so") do better in school and also are less likely to use
- Experimentation and use among elementary age children is
associated with parenting. Along with parent's substance use
encouraging risk taking increases pre-teens use.
- Family environment is more important than the family economic
status. Adolescent drinking is largely unrelated to the
socio-economic circumstances of the family. A supportive family
environment is associated with lowered rates of alcohol use.
- Parents health habits influence their children. This goes from
wearing bike helmets, to using seat belts, to drinking patterns
and being a smoker. The younger the child the more powerful is the
parent's model. If you have any concern about your own substance
use, act on this. People don't often worry about their
alcohol or drug use needlessly. If you are a smoker, maybe now is
the time to quit.
- Parental use of illegal drugs substantially increases the risk
of their teens drug use.
- Risk factors for adolescent drinking encompass sociocultural
factors, such as regulation of alcohol availability;
parental behavior and drinking patterns; the influence and
drinking habits of siblings and peers; personality traits,
particularly those related to impulsiveness and risk-taking, and
positive beliefs about alcohol's effects.
- Parents are more potent influence than peers and siblings.
- Parents who recognize the potential for their adolescent's
becoming involved with alcohol are more likely and able to
intervene if this were to occur. They are also more likely to
supervise teen parties given at their home.
- Parents and teens often see the same thing differently.
Views of parents and their own teens were compared.
Parents were more likely to attribute drug use to factors with
negative connotations (such as boredom, rebellion, loneliness, or
social pressure). Their children were more likely to mention
things with more positive connotations (such as curiosity, fun,
insight/experience). Parents under-estimate use of alcohol and
marijuana relative to their teens' estimates.
Both parents and teens estimate substance use by other students at
school to be higher than that of the teens' close friends for all
drug categories. Parents' estimates of intoxication or getting
high are lower than their children's estimates.
Finally, parents' ratings of the effectiveness of drug prevention
strategies are consistently higher than those given by their
- Adolescents' decisions to experiment with or to use drugs are
Think of this as a number of cross currents at work. The
perception of friends' approval/disapproval of substance use,
perceptions of the level of other's use, and the assessment of the
risk of use all play a role.
- Correct adolescents misconceptions. Teens frequently over
estimate how often friends and fellow students drink alcohol.
- Teens perceptions of friends use influences a teen's own
Perceptions of friends' use and perceptions of family use are
better predictors of substance use than friends' actual use.
- In discussing the dangers of illicit drugs beware of making
legal drugs sound "safe."
Commonly there is much more emphasis on dangers of the illicit
over those of the licit drugs tobacco and alcohol.
- The desire for a "good" social image can prompt
Friends who use and don't discourage substance use may make this
seem socially desirable. Parents views may be less important than
that of friends as define whether substance use is "in" or "out.
However, parents play a role, if indirectly, by influencing their
children's choice of friends.
- Access to alcohol.
Access is an important factor--and even more important than
parental or peer's views.
Factors associated with problems
- Access via licensed premises.
This is one of the strongest predictors of drinking and
alcohol problems. Among 15-18 year olds, the ability to get served
is more significant than peers or parental influences.
- Early use
The earlier that children begin to drink, the greater the
likelihood of later problems.
- Adult roles too early.
Taking on adult roles too early increases the risk of
substance use problems.
Becoming a teenage parent, or living independently rather than
with parents or family, or dropping out of school are more
common among those who used alcohol or other drugs in early
- Permission attitudes in the home.
Young people growing up in homes with permissive attitudes to
alcohol e and who are introduced to alcohol at an earlier age may
be more vulnerable to alcohol-related problems in adolescence.
- Teenage smoking
Be concerned about teenage smoking, as a health risk and as a
Daily pack-a-day smokers are three times more likely to drink
alcohol, seven times more likely to use smokeless tobacco, and
10-30 times more likely to use illicit drugs than nonsmokers.
- Support smoking cessation.
Appreciate how addictive nicotine is. Very quickly smoking moves
beyond experimentation. For teens who do smoke, promote smoking
What you can do?
Use your influence . . .
with your children
with parents of your children' s friends,
and in your community.
Support efforts to reduce teenager's access to alcohol.
Access via licensed premises is one of the strongest
predictors of drinking and alcohol problems. It is even more
significant than parental or peer influences.
Find our how others are discussing alcohol/ drugs with your
your child's pediatrician, coaches, clergyman/rabbi/or
Promote anticipatory guidance.
Support policy initiatives to reduce alcohol use.
Appreciate the impact of beverage price on adolescent
use. How do you think the cost of a six pack of beer should stack up
to a six pack of soda?
Be sure your son or daughter knows how to respond to
an alcohol/drug emergency.
Help make the real norms in your community apparent.
Talk to other parents
Set an example
Let where you stand be very clear
. . . it makes a