Research has shown that parents who have an ongoing, open dialogue about decisions related to substance use with their children help lessen their risk for substance use. While there are many other important factors involved, such as the alcohol and drug related behaviors of their friends and the individuals they date, parental influence is critical.
However, a new study says that parents should be careful not to share too much of their personal history. While parents may believe that a cautionary tale taken straight from their own experiences may clearly illustrate the need to avoid drugs and alcohol, the opposite may be true.
The temptation to tell a story from their own experience may be especially prominent in a parent’s mind, because they strongly desire to help their child escape a similar consequence of a poor choice. Remembering the ways that their behavior affected their physical well-being, relationships with their parents or academic achievement levels may drive a conversation to help a child avoid the same experience.
Influence on Kids
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is the result of interviews with 561 middle school students that asked them about the conversations they have with their parents regarding alcohol, drugs and tobacco.
Published in a recent issue of the journal Human Communications Research, the study finds that sharing stories with children about personal experiences relating to substance use may not help them avoid using substances. In fact, it may do the reverse of what parents intend.
The researchers in the study found that children were less likely to have negative associations with drugs if their parents had shared their personal history of experiences with drugs and alcohol. On the other hand, among students who reported that their parents had shared with them the information related to drugs without including their own histories tended to have children who were less likely to use drugs.
Led by Jennifer Kam, the study also found that when an adolescent had heard personal histories of drug or alcohol histories from parents, they were less likely to have anti-substance use perceptions.
The study found that even when the parents are clearly expressing information about a lesson to be learned from their own experiences, the adolescent perceives something different: that drugs and alcohol are not so bad.
Tools to Avoid Substance Abuse
Study author Jennifer Kam told Huffington Post that while the recommendation to parents is certainly not to lie to children, but instead to focus in on the tools they need to avoid substance use. This would include the negative consequences associated with drugs, how to decline drug offers and conversations about other people who have experienced the negative consequences of drug use.
The study’s findings were based on a group of 308 white students and 253 Hispanic students, all in sixth to eighth grades. These two groups were chosen for examination because they have the highest rates of marijuana use and alcohol use in the eighth grade.