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Parents Wield Significant Power to Prevent Teen Substance Abuse

Parents Wield Significant Power to Prevent Teen Substance Abuse

While many parents may throw their hands up as they attempt to control their teen, new research suggests parents actually can make a difference by being involved in their teens’ life.

Adolescence is admittedly a time when many children may consider experimenting with alcohol or drugs. Emerging findings, however, suggest that parents can reduce the risk by maintaining a healthy and open relationship with their children.

Importantly, developing a strong relationship with a child needs to begin before preadolescence or adolescence.

Furthermore, Thomas Schofield, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University, explains that the group an adolescent associates with, is a critical factor.

Adolescents are more likely to drink or use drugs if they hang out with deviant friends or if they actively seek out peers to facilitate substance use. Accordingly, parents who know what’s going on with their children and their friends can minimize the impact of both pathways.

Study findings appear in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

“Parents don’t even have to be ‘super parents,'” Schofield said. “As long as they’re at the 71st percentile, or getting a C- in parenting, both of these dangerous pathways to drug abuse go away.”

Schofield and colleagues Rand Conger and Richard Robins, both at the University of California, Davis, observed interactions between Latino parents and children to gauge the level and effects of parental monitoring.

They focused specifically on Latino families to better understand if cultural differences influenced parenting behaviors and outcomes. Latinos are also at greater risk to use drugs and alcohol at an early age, and have a higher probability of use and abuse over time, Schofield said.

And, it may come as a surprise to parents that risks begin at a young age. In the current research, the team observed children in fifth grade and again in seventh grade.

Schofield says their data show that for many, this age range is a starting point or baseline for alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. It’s also a time when parents may be caught off guard by changes in their child’s behavior, if they don’t have a strong foundation established.

“Parents who haven’t been deliberately investing time during middle and late childhood to build the relationship with their child — one that is very open, with lots of communication, respect, and understanding — all the scaffolding falls away when their child becomes an adolescent,” Schofield said.

“The relationship is what the parent made it, and without that scaffolding a lot of parents struggle.”

He added, “Preadolescence and early adolescence is not a particularly risky time; it’s just the best time to get kids on board with collaborating, communicating with their parents, and creating that relationship earlier.”

Researchers included nearly 675 children and their parents in the study. A critical part of the study was the observation of mothers and fathers separately as they interacted with their children. Investigators also controlled for child temperament and cultural beliefs.

The findings suggest that more than genetics is at play, and parents can make a difference in influencing their child’s behavior, Schofield said.

Researches also discovered that parents also influence one another.

Experts believe that deterring drug and alcohol use is just one reason why it is important for parents to be on the same page and share the same beliefs on parenting. Not only do parents affect their child’s behavior in this regard, but over time they also change each other’s thoughts and actions as a parent.

That’s the conclusion of a separate study, in which Schofield and colleague Jennifer Weaver, at Boise State University, analyzed data from two-parent families participating in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study on Early Child Care and Youth Development.

According to their analysis, beliefs about parenting predicted change in actual parenting behavior. They also found that behavior can change beliefs, but this effect was not as strong. The study provides insight that many people may not consider before becoming a parent, but should.

Amazing, skills associated with becoming a good parent include partner selection.

“Young people seek out romantic partners based on shared interests, physical attractiveness, and how fun they are, not based on what kind of parent they’ll become,” Schofield said.

“Whoever you end up making your spouse, they’re going to influence your parenting behavior. That should be a factor in deciding who you have children with and it is not a factor a lot of people take into consideration.”

Schofield says it’s only natural that parents emulate each other, because we all adapt and shift to the people around us.

But he notes that the ability for one parent to affect the other only exists when they have a good martial relationship, according to a previous study he and colleagues conducted. Knowing this, parents should use it to their advantage.

For example, if there is an issue going on with their child, get support together. This study has been published in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Source: Iowa State University

Parents Wield Significant Power to Prevent Teen Substance Abuse

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). Parents Wield Significant Power to Prevent Teen Substance Abuse. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 11 Dec 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.