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With Teen Substance Use, It May Really Take A Village

With Teen Substance Use, It May Really Take A Village New research suggests successful parenting of a teenager needs to include keeping track of their peers — and even the peer’s parents.

While the task may seem daunting, researchers discovered parents were impressed that they could not only influence their own children, but they can also have a positive influence on their children’s friends as well.

Specifically, researchers discovered that during high school the parents of teenagers’ friends can have as much effect on the teens’ substance use as their own parents.

“Among friendship groups with ‘good parents’ there’s a synergistic effect — if your parents are consistent and aware of your whereabouts, and your friends’ parents are also consistent and aware of their (children’s) whereabouts, then you are less likely to use substances,” said Michael J. Cleveland, Ph.D., research assistant professor at Penn State.

“But if you belong to a friendship group whose parents are inconsistent, and your parents are consistent, you’re still more likely to use alcohol. The differences here are due to your friends’ parents, not yours.”

Cleveland and his colleagues report parenting behaviors and adolescents’ substance-use behaviors to be significantly correlated in the “expected directions” in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

The researchers discovered that higher levels of parental knowledge and disciplinary consistency lead to a lower likelihood of substance use, whereas lower levels lead to a higher likelihood of substance use.

However, if adolescents’ friend’s parents are unaware of their own children’s activities, the risk for substance abuse goes up for both parties.

“The peer context is a very powerful influence,” said Cleveland. “We’ve found in other studies that the peer aspect can overwhelm your upbringing.”

Researchers believe this is the first study to document that parenting at the peer level proved to have a concrete and statistically significant impact on child outcomes.

In the study, researchers surveyed 9,417 9th-grade students during the spring semester, and then again the following spring semester.

The students came from 27 different rural school districts in Pennsylvania and Iowa, all participating in the Promoting School-university-community Partnerships to Enhance Resilience (PROSPER) study.

In 9th grade, the researchers asked the students to name five of their closest friends. The researchers identified social networks within the schools by matching up the mutually exclusive friendships. Overall, the researchers identified 897 different friendship groups, with an average of 10 to 11 students in each group.

At that time, students also answered questions about their perceptions of how much their parents knew about where they were and who they were with. They were also asked about the consistency of their parents’ discipline.

In the 10th-grade follow-up, students responded to questions about their substance use habits, specifically their use of alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana.

Behaviors of friends’ parents influenced substance use even when taking into account the effects of the teens’ own parents’ behaviors and their friends’ substance use, demonstrating the powerful effect of peers on adolescent behavior.

“I think that it empowers parents to know that not only can they have an influence on their own children, but they can also have a positive influence on their children’s friends as well,” said Cleveland.

“And that by acting together — the notion of ‘it takes a village’ — can actually result in better outcomes for adolescents.”

Source: Penn State

With Teen Substance Use, It May Really Take A Village

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). With Teen Substance Use, It May Really Take A Village. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 2 May 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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