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Parent-child communication, perceived sanctions against drug use, and youth drug involvement

There is a growing and robust body of research that indicates that the influence of parents is the most underutilized tool in preventing youth substance abuse (e.g., Califano, 2000; Jenkins & Zunguze, 1998; Office of National Drug Control Policy, 1997; Resnick et al., 1997). This influence is exerted through a number of avenues, such as parents' own values with respect to substance use, communication of those values, and monitoring/enforcement of family policies. Two recent longitudinal studies have found that parental disapproval of adolescent alcohol use deters later adolescent drinking (Ary, Tildesley, Hops, & Andrew, 1993; Reifman, Barnes, Dintcheff, Farrell, & Uhteg, 1998). Other studies have found that greater frequency of parental monitoring in the home is associated with somewhat less frequent cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use among adolescents (Chilcoat & Anthony, 1996; Kafka & London, 1991; Resnick et al., 1997).

The Beck and Lockhart model of parental involvement in youth drinking and driving (Beck et al.,1997) says that the likelihood of alcohol misuse can be seen as a direct result of low levels of parental action, which is characterized by weak levels of monitoring and enforcement of family policies on drinking. The model predicts that the most immediate determinant of adolescent alcohol misuse is the frequency of parental monitoring and enforcement of family rules about underage drinking. Moreover, the researchers found that parents appear to have better success in helping their teens avoid high-risk alcohol situations if they supervise the activities given in their home and monitor their teens when they are away from home by "waiting up."

Considerable research has been devoted to forms of communication between parents and children. Several studies have reported that youth from families with frequent, open (bidirectional), and positive communication are less likely to become involved with drugs. These youth are also more likely to have abstinence-based norms than are youth from families in which this kind of dialogue is absent (Baumrind, 1991; Block, Block, & Keyes, 1988; Brody et al., 1998; Brody & Schaffer, 1982; Coombs, 1988; Kafka & London, 1991; Reis, 1996; Smetana, 1987). With respect to frequency, Gil, Vega, and Biafora (1998) found that White non-Hispanics and U.S.-born Hispanics with infrequent communication within their family were more likely to initiate drug use. Another study found that the fewer cautionary statements given to adolescents by their parents about substance use, the more likely those adolescents were to initiate substance use (Andrews, Hops, Ary, Tildesley, & Harris, 1993).

Discussions that involve both children's and parents' perspectives have been found to promote the development of conventional standards of conduct (Baumrind, 1991; Brody & Shaffer, 1982; Smetana, 1987). Active involvement in discussions in which children perceive that they have input into behavioral norms will decrease the likelihood that the children will view the norms as externally imposed; this, in turn, will increase the likelihood that they will behave in accordance with the norms (Langer, 1983; Lepper, 1981). Furthermore, Harbach and Jones (1995) found that the success of parents in communicating values about family, religion, education, and work was associated with lower risk of drug use. At-risk adolescents assigned less importance to these values than did other groups in the study.

Positive communication of parental values on substance use is another critical element in parent-child discussions. Parent-child communication within alcoholic families is often characterized as excessively critical, lacking warmth, and as inattentive to children's needs and feelings (Black, Bucky & Wilder-Padilla, 1986; Jones & Houts, 1992). Comparisons of adolescent drug users and nonusers document the importance of fathers who provide praise and encouragement and of mothers who provide advice and guidance to drug-abstaining youth (Coombs & Landsverk, 1988).

Kelly, K., Comello, M. and Hunn, L. (2002) Parent-child communication, perceived sanctions against drug use, and youth drug involvement. Adolescence, Winter, 2002

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