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Can You Influence Your Teen’s Substance Use?

June 07, 2013  |  Falmouth Enterprise

By Dr. Michael Bihari

A new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the federal agency that funds the Falmouth Prevention Partnership, indicates that more than one in five parents of teens aged 12 to 17 think what they say has little influence on whether or not their children uses illegal substances, tobacco, or alcohol. 

This report also shows that one in ten parents do not talk to their teens about the dangers of using tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs even though more than 65 percent of the parents who had not spoken to their children thought they could influence their teens’ use of drugs if they spoke to them.

Parental Disapproval Matters

National surveys (the same or similar survey to the one used in Falmouth schools) show that teens who believe their parents would strongly disapprove of them using substances are less likely than their peers to try them. For example, current marijuana use is less prevalent among teens who believe their parents strongly disapprove of their trying marijuana than among youth who do not perceive this level of disapproval. The difference is significant: 5.0 percent vs. 31.5 percent.

"Surveys of teens repeatedly show that parents can make an enormous difference in influencing their children’s perceptions of tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drug use," said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde in a May 24 press release. "Although most parents are talking with their teens about the risks of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, far too many are missing the vital opportunity these conversations provide in influencing their children’s health and well-being. Parents need to initiate age-appropriate conversations about these issues with their children at all stages of their development in order to help ensure that their children make the right decisions.”

Strong Connections Are Important

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati studied more than 54,000 teens in grades 7 through 12 to determine the effect of family and social connections on a teens’ abuse of prescription medications. The study found the following:

  • Prosocial behaviors, including strong connections with parents (and their advise about the dangers of prescription drug abuse), reduced the students' risk of abusing prescription medications.
  • Students who had connections with teachers and schools, and peers who disapproved of substance abuse also had a decreased chance of abusing prescription medication.
  • Conversely, having a relationship with peers who use alcohol, tobacco and marijuana increased a student’s risk of prescription drug abuse.

What Is Prosocial Behavior?

The term prosocial behavior means positive actions that benefit others, motivated by empathy, moral values, and a sense of personal responsibility. Teens who engage in prosocial activities, such as volunteering, are less likely to drink alcohol or use illegal substances. Examples of local prosocial teen happenings include two activities at Falmouth High School: No Guff Week and Jack’s PACT.

And remember, parents are among the most influential factors in preventing children’s substance use!


Several of our highly recommended health-related websites have excellent articles and resources about parenting: 

  • MedlinePlus - Parenting
  • Nine Steps to More Effective Parenting

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