A healthy and open relationship with teens, not perfect parenting, is the best way to reduce the chance that kids will abuse drugs and alcohol, a new study finds.
Teenagers 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, researchers say. Parents who know what’s going on with their children and their friends can minimize the impact of both pathways.
“Parents don’t even have to be ‘super parents,'” says Thomas Schofield. “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.”
For a new study, researchers observed interactions between Latino parents and childrenin fifth grade and again in seventh grade 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 explains.
The 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 says. “The relationship is what the parent made it, and without that scaffolding a lot of parents struggle.
“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.”
Nearly 675 children were included in the study. Researchers observed mothers and fathers separately as they interacted with their children. They also controlled for child temperament and cultural beliefs. This indicates that more than genetics is at play, and parents can make a difference in influencing their child’s behavior, Schofield says.
Deterring drug and alcohol use is just one reason why it is important for moms and dads 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.
Beliefs about parenting predict 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.
“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 says.
“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.”
The findings were published in the Journal of Family Psychology.
Source: Iowa State University