Parents and parents of friends can influence drug use

Parents of teenagers’ friends can have as much effect on the teens’ substance use as their own parents, according to a new study.

“Among friendship groups with ‘good parents’ there’s a synergistic effect –┬áif your parents are consistent and aware of your whereabouts, and your friends’ parents are also consistent and aware of their (children’s) whereabouts, then you are less likely to use substances,” said Michael J. Cleveland, research assistant professor at the Prevention Research Centre and the Methodology Centre, Penn State.

In the study, 9,417 ninth-grade students were surveyed during the spring semester, and then again the following spring semester. The subjects came from 27 different rural school districts in Pennsylvania and Iowa, all participating in the Promoting School-university-community Partnerships to Enhance Resilience (PROSPER) study.

In ninth grade, the students were asked to name five of their closest friends. The researchers then identified social networks within the schools by matching up the mutually exclusive friendships. Overall, the team identified 897 different friendship groups, with an average of 10 to 11 students in each group.

At that time students also responded to questions about their perceptions of how much their parents knew about where they were and who they were with. They were also asked about the consistency of their parents’ discipline.

In the tenth-grade follow-up, participants answered questions about their substance use habits, specifically their use of alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana.

Researchers found parenting behaviours and adolescents’ substance-use behaviours to be significantly correlated that higher levels of parental knowledge and disciplinary consistency leading to a lower likelihood of substance use, whereas lower levels lead to a higher likelihood of substance use.

It was also found that behaviours of friends’ parents influenced substance use even when taking into account the effects of the teens’ own parents’ behaviours and their friends’ substance use, demonstrating the powerful effect of peers on adolescent behaviour

For example, if adolescents’ parents are consistent and generally aware of their children’s activities, but the parents of the children’s friends are inconsistent and generally unaware of their own children’s activities, the adolescents are more likely to use substances than if their friends’ parents were more similar to their own parents.

“The peer context is a very powerful influence,” said Cleveland. “We’ve found in other studies that the peer aspect can overwhelm your upbringing.”

According to the authors, this to be the first study where parenting at the peer level proved to have a concrete and statistically significant impact on child outcomes.

“I think that it empowers parents to know that not only can they have an influence on their own children, but they can also have a positive influence on their children’s friends as well,” said Cleveland. “And that by acting together the notion of ‘it takes a village’ can actually result in better outcomes for adolescents.”

The study was published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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