Involved parents influence how teens think about substance use and the people who use them


It has long been known that adolescents with warm and involved parents are less likely to use alcohol, cigarettes, or marijuana. Now a study published in the July/August 2005 issue of the journal Child Development finds such involved parenting actually affects teenagers' thought processes when it comes to such substances, giving teens a negative view of people who drink or smoke cigarettes or marijuana, and insuring the teens won't use such substances even when they're easily available.

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, Iowa State University, and the University of Georgia followed 714 African-American adolescents and their parents for five years. The investigators began by asking the adolescents questions about their mothers' parenting behaviors and, two years later, questions regarding their thoughts concerning typical substance users.

The teens were also asked how open they were to trying alcohol, cigarettes, or marijuana if the opportunity arose. In the fifth year, the researchers asked the adolescents to report how often they had used any of these substances.

The findings suggest that parents affect their children's behaviors by influencing two key thought processes: their images of the typical "smoker" or "drinker," which the adolescent associates with the behavior, and their willingness to smoke, drink, or use other drugs if they find themselves in circumstances in which such substances are available.

The researchers also found that the positive effects of strong parenting were greatest in families living in high-risk neighborhoods where, for instance, gang fights and drug-selling were more likely to occur.

"Overall, we found our results encouraging because the parenting behaviors consisted of things that most parents can do--provide warmth and support for their children, monitor their behaviors and friends, and talk to them about using drugs," said lead author Michael J. Cleveland, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. "Parents should know that they can influence how their children think about substance use and users, which may eventually reduce the chance their child will use alcohol, cigarettes, or marijuana."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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