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Parents Let Their Own Experiences Affect Drug, Alcohol Boundaries Set For Teens

Armen Hareyan's picture

A new survey released from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and MetLife Foundation found that parents' personal past experiences with alcohol and drugs at prom and graduation parties may influence the rules and limits they set for their teens during this time of the year.

According to the survey, parents who drank or used drugs at their own proms or graduations were likely to be more permissive with their kids than those parents who did not. Among parents who drank or used drugs on these occasions, 66 percent set a "zero tolerance policy" for their teens. Among parents who did not drink or use drugs, that number jumps up to 87 percent of parents who set hard rules about drinking and drugs for their kids. Parents who abused drugs or alcohol are also more likely to suspect that teens will use drugs or drink at prom or graduation parties - 51 percent versus just 36 percent of parents who didn't use drugs or alcohol.

The survey also indicates that when parents talk to kids about alcohol and drug abuse teens take their parents' messages to heart - only 16 percent of teens whose parents set a zero tolerance policy reported their individual likelihood of using drugs or alcohol, whereas 45 percent of teens whose parents didn't set such boundaries reported they were likely to drink or use drugs at prom or graduation parties this year.

"Parents can't let past drug use or personal experiences at their prom parties influence their attitudes toward their kids' use today," said Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of the Partnership. "The drug abuse landscape teens face today - which includes abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medicines - is drastically different than when today's parents were teens. We know that parents are the greatest point of leverage in preventing drug and alcohol abuse, and this survey reinforces the fact that kids live up to parents' expectations as well as down to them."

The survey of 1,000 teens in grades 9-12 and 1,003 parents was conducted by Kelton Research, along with the Partnership and the MetLife Foundation, and has a margin of error of +/-3.1 percent.

Prescription Drugs Added to the Mix

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The survey also found that 44 percent of teens say prescription drug use may be a part of prom and graduation parties. Additional Partnership research confirms that an alarming number of today's teenagers are more likely to have abused prescription and over-the-counter medications than a variety of illegal drugs like Ecstasy, cocaine, crack and meth. Nearly one in five teens (19 percent or 4.5 million) reports abusing prescription medications to get high and one in 10 (10 percent or 2.4 million) reports abusing cough medicine to get high.

Teens Feel Pressured: Talk to Them Before Their Friends Do

Sixty percent of teens say they feel pressured to use drugs or alcohol "always" or "frequently" at prom or graduation events, and 22 percent of teens surveyed report that they are likely to drink or use drugs at these types of celebrations.

Partnership research repeatedly shows that kids who learn a lot about the risks of drugs at home are up to 50 percent less likely than their peers to use, yet less than one-third of teens, just 31 percent, say they are getting that message from their parents.

"By talking with their teens often about the dangers of drug abuse, parents can protect their kids and help them live healthy drug-free lives," said Sibyl Jacobson, president of MetLife Foundation. "These survey findings serve as an important reminder that what parents choose to discuss with their teens can have an impact on the actions their children take."

"When parents talk, most teens actually do listen. Parents must take the opportunity presented by prom and graduation season to let their teens know drug and alcohol use is both a real risk to their health and also a behavior the family will not condone," added Pasierb. "Many parents feel overwhelmed and conflicted about setting hard rules about drug and alcohol use, especially if they drank or used drugs as a teen - but they must set clear, non-negotiable rules. We urge parents to not only talk with their kids, but to encourage fellow parents to follow suit and enforce the same rules."

Before big events like prom or graduation, remind your teens of the discussions you've had and of your expectations for them not to use drugs or alcohol. Also, get in touch with the parents of your teenager's friends to be sure that they're also setting a no-use rule, and won't be serving alcohol at their houses. Some parents say, "I'd rather my kids drink at home where I know they're safe" - but this can open the door to other kids drinking and potentially driving under the influence of alcohol. In most communities, this exposes the parents who serve alcohol to legal liability for accidents related to drugs or alcohol consumed at their house.

For parents of younger kids, remember to begin the dialogue when your kids are young; talk with them early and have frequent conversations. This could springboard off a "teachable moment" - like an incident that occurred in their town or school, a problem in your extended family, a popular music video or movie or something that happened on the news. Set a "no-use" expectation for your teens, including for alcohol, and make it explicitly known to them that substance abuse will not be tolerated in your home.