Honesty, leniency can drive your kids to drugs?

Thinking about letting your kids stay home alone? What about telling them of past drug use? Think again. A review of recent studies about drugs and parenting styles here.

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Does parenting affect drug use?

As if parents don’t already have enough to worry about, new research appears to suggest that honesty and leniency with your teenage children could backfire and lead them to drugs. In one study released last summer, teens that were trusted to be home alone in the evenings or overnight were more prone to drug abuse than those who were not. (1) A second study showed that parents who talked to their kids about past drug abuse as an educational tool or reference ironically caused their children to view drugs in a more positive light. (2)

The first study was conducted by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University and published in August 2012. In the study teens aged 12-17 were asked how often they were home alone in the evenings and how often they were left home alone overnight. Teens that were left home alone frequently were 2-3 times more likely to have used marijuana, alcohol and/or tobacco than those who were home alone infrequently or not at all.

The Columbia University study went on to report that teens whose parents voiced strong disapproval of drug and alcohol use were far less likely to use drugs than teens whose parents were not as strongly disapproving. (1)

Interestingly, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has come under fire repeatedly for poor methodology and failure to permit peer-review of studies, and a number of organizations have called the group out as frauds. (3) Whether there are issues in this regard that warrant attention for the study addressed in this article remains to be seen, but what is certain is that the study, titled; “National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVII: Teens,” doesn’t tell us anything that a logical parent doesn’t already know.

Or does it?

The study essentially tells us that the more time we spend with our kids, then the less likely it is that they will do drugs. This is common sense and nothing more, and the same is true for the idea that voicing strong disapproval of drugs will help ensure that teens “just say no.”

But in an article for ABC News by Dr. Rebecca Chasnovitz, research is presented that indicates talking to your kids about your own personal drug use experience could cause them to think that drugs aren’t so bad. The study, conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, doesn’t offer an alternative, but makes clear the connection between conversations about parental drug use and drug use perception in their teenage children. (2)

The University of Illinois study may give parents who believe in complete and “up-front” honesty with their teens reason to show a little more restraint. After all, if you tell your teen about your pot smoking days in the 60’s or your coked-out days in the 80’s, you’re potentially sending a mixed message even if the point is the dangers and consequences you caused through your drug use. Subconsciously, the message is this: you used drugs, and you’re still alive to talk about it.

Ultimately, both studies only reinforce what we already know about good parenting: by staying active in our children’s lives, clearly communicating our expectations and having tactfully honest conversations, our teens will be less likely to use drugs. This type of common sense shouldn’t take millions of dollars in research to figure out.

References Sources: (1) National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVII: Teens The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University August 2012
(2) Rebecca Chasnovitz, M.D. Don’t Dish About Your Past Drug Use to Your Kids, Study Finds ABC News
(3) Activist Cash: National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse
About the author
James F. Davis, CAS is a Board Certified Interventionist and the founder of Recovery First, a prominent inpatient drug treatment center in South Florida. Mr. Davis is also the founder of a website dedicated to Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, and celebrated his 32nd year of sobriety in early 2013.
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