Parents Who Drink Influence Their Teens to do the Same Thing
Setting a good example for the children takes all the fun out of middle age, author William Feather once said.
However, there may be a pay-off for parents who set a good example.
If you are a parent who does not drink or use drugs, chances are your children will follow your example. Even if you just proclaim a negative attitude toward liquor and drugs, your child will think twice about using them. However, if you are a heavy drinker, you increase your child's chances of following your example by threefold.
It's true: just when you thought the only things influencing your teen were friends, video games and the Internet, it turns out that parents still matter.
That is the reason we are now seeing television advertisements such as "Parents: The Anti-Drug" instead of old campaigns like "Just Say No." The latest research indicates that parents' examples and teaching are far more effective forms of drug education than anti-drug programs in schools. Such research points to four principles parents can use to keep their children off drugs and liquor.
- Genetics count less than we once thought.
Studies of identical twins show that although there is a genetic component to alcoholism and drug abuse, genetics does not trump environment. You can have a genetic predisposition for alcoholism or drug abuse, but environmental factors have to come into play for it to develop.
Besides genetics, risk factors for teens are undiagnosed learning disabilities, bi-polar disorder, childhood traumas, anxiety, depression, and feelings that they do not fit in with their peer groups. Any teen who says that he or she loved drugs or drinking from the first try is also at greater risk. The earlier a teen starts using, the more likely he or she will be addicted. Latchkey children who are home alone after school are at more risk than supervised children. Finally, growing up around heavy drinkers is another big risk factor.
- Parents' drinking and/or drug habits influence their children's choices.
If one parent is a heavy drinker, the child's chances of becoming a heavy drinker increase by two or three times. In a 2005 study done in Wales, children of heavy drinkers were found to "drink more frequently, more heavily, and more often alone" than children of parents without alcohol problems. Similar results occur with children of smokers.
Parents who use illegal drugs are more likely to hide that fact from their children. Consequently, parental drug habits do not influence children as much as parental drinking and smoking habits.
- Adolescence is a critical time for parents not to drink.
Children as young as three years old know that drinking alcohol affects adults differently than other beverages, and they usually think of alcohol in a negative way. However, the teen years are critical in terms of exposure to parental drinking and drug abuse. Children under twelve years are not as affected by parental drinking as teenagers are. Parents who quit before their children are teenagers not only improve their own health, they lower their offspring's risk for drug and alcohol abuse.
- Parental attitudes and habits influence kids.
Several interesting studies indicate that if teens believe that their parents are against drinking and drug use, teens are less likely to try them. Parental disapproval acts as a "buffer" against peer pressure. Children of "permissive parents" who are more accepting of drugs and liquor or who leave decisions about them to their teens are more likely to have children who abuse substances.
Children who come from strict homes where parents not only have negative attitudes about drinking and drugs but also monitor their children's academic progress and other activities also have less risk for alcoholism and drugs. Children who attend religious services frequently and/or who believe that religion is important in their lives have lower rates of chemical abuse. One study showed abuse at about 7% for religious teens and 17% for non-religious.
To summarize, parents can protect their children against drug and alcohol abuse by setting a good example and by assuming a negative attitude about their children using liquor and drugs. The adolescent years are a critical time to do these things. Staying involved in your children's lives and supervising them even as teenagers also protect them against potential substance abuse problems.