New research shows that children respond better to anti-drug messages when parents don’t disclose their past drug use.
Researchers Jennifer A. Kam, Ph.D., from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Ashley V. Middleton, MSO Health Information Management, surveyed 253 Latino and 308 European-American students in the sixth through eighth grades. The students reported on the conversations they’ve had with their parents about alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana.
Kam and Middleton noted they were interested in determining how certain types of messages were related to the students’ substance-use perceptions, and in turn, their behaviors.
While past research found that teens said they would be less likely to use drugs if their parents told them about their own past drug use, the new study found that children whose parents talked about the negative consequences, or regret, over their own past substance use were less likely to report anti-substance-use perceptions.
This finding means that when parents share their past stories of substance use, even when there is a learning lesson, such messages may have unintended consequences for early adolescent children, according to the researchers.
Kam and Middleton’s study also identifies specific messages that parents can relay to their children about alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana that may encourage anti-substance-use perceptions, and in turn, discourage actual use.
For example, parents may talk to their kids about the negative consequences of using substances, how to avoid substances, that they disapprove of substance use, the family rules against substance use, and stories about others who have gotten in trouble from using substances.
“Parents may want to reconsider whether they should talk to their kids about times when they used substances in the past and not volunteer such information,” Kam said.
She noted, however, that it is “important to remember this study is one of the first to examine the associations between parents’ references to their own past substance use and their adolescent children’s subsequent perceptions and behaviors.”
The findings were published in the journal Human Communication Research.