As children begin to grow more independent and sometimes clash with parents, it is easy for mom and dad to back away.
They may be discouraged about having any kind of positive impact and might even think their kids are determined to do the exact opposite of what they advise.
A new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reveals that more than 1 in 5 parents of kids age 12 to 17 think that what they say has little influence on whether their children use drugs, tobacco or alcohol.
The same study shows that 1 in 10 parents don’t even talk with their teens about the dangers of using those substances. That was true even though 67.6 percent of those parents thought their words could influence whether their child used drugs.
It is important to speak up, even if you think you are being ignored.
Over and over, national surveys of children age 12 to 17 have shown that teens who believe their parents would strongly disapprove of their substance use were less likely to use drugs and alcohol than other kids.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports, for example, that marijuana use was less prevalent — just 5 percent — among youths who believed their parents would strongly disapprove of their trying pot even once or twice. Among those who did not perceive this level of disapproval, usage was at 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 Pamela S. Hyde, who leads the administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“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.”
Surveys conducted here in the North Country have proven that the number of teens who don’t use drugs or alcohol is higher than those who do, despite the perception that “everyone does it.” That is an important fact for parents to emphasize when they talk with their kids.
And notice we say “talk with” not “talk to.” While the idea of just laying down the law has some appeal, the counsel will have more impact if parents get their children to sit down and have conversations.
Get informed and plunge in. If you aren’t sure what to say, help is available. Going to the website www.underagedrinking.samhsa.gov will bring you to the Parental Resources section. That can get you started, and local guidance counselors and health departments can also offer advice.
It may be a little uncomfortable to start the conversation, but remember that parents have a tremendous influence on young minds.
More is sinking in than you know — or the kids will admit.