Parent-Child Communication, Perceived Sanctions against Drug Use, and Youth Drug Involvement

By Kelly, Kathleen J.; G., Maria Leonora, Comello et al. | Adolescence, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Parent-Child Communication, Perceived Sanctions against Drug Use, and Youth Drug Involvement


Kelly, Kathleen J., G., Maria Leonora, Comello, Hunn, Liza C. P., Adolescence


Trends show that drug use continues to be a critical public health concern among adolescents in the United States. The Monitoring the Future 2000 survey results (Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman, 2001) show that although the use of some drugs has declined from peak levels in the mid-1990s, the use of other drugs (including marijuana, amphetamines, barbiturates, tranquilizers, alcohol, and hallucinogens other than LSD) is holding steady. Further, the Monitoring the Future 2000 data show an increase in the use of heroin and steroids by some students, and in the use of the club drug "ecstasy" by students at all levels. Moreover, the high-risk period is becoming longer, with the age at first use of alcohol dropping to about 12 years (Brody, Flor, Hollett-Wright, & McCoy, 1998; Tarter & Blackson, 1992). Because of these statistics, there continues to be a need to assess factors in the family environment that protect against drug use (Reis, 1996; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1993).

There is a growing and robust body of research that indicates that the influence of parents is the most underutilized tool in preventing youth substance abuse (e.g., Califano, 2000; Jenkins & Zunguze, 1998; Office of National Drug Control Policy, 1997; Resnick et al., 1997). This influence is exerted through a number of avenues, such as parents' own values with respect to substance use, communication of those values, and monitoring/enforcement of family policies. Two recent longitudinal studies have found that parental disapproval of adolescent alcohol use deters later adolescent drinking (Ary, Tildesley, Hops, & Andrew, 1993; Reifman, Barnes, Dintcheff, Farrell, & Uhteg, 1998). Other studies have found that greater frequency of parental monitoring in the home is associated with somewhat less frequent cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use among adolescents (Chilcoat & Anthony, 1996; Kafka & London, 1991; Resnick et al., 1997).

The Beck and Lockhart model of parental involvement in youth drinking and driving (Beck et al., 1997) says that the likelihood of alcohol misuse can be seen as a direct result of low levels of parental action, which is characterized by weak levels of monitoring and enforcement of family policies on drinking. The model predicts that the most immediate determinant of adolescent alcohol misuse is the frequency of parental monitoring and enforcement of family rules about underage drinking. Moreover, the researchers found that parents appear to have better success in helping their teens avoid high-risk alcohol situations if they supervise the activities given in their home and monitor their teens when they are away from home by "waiting up."

Considerable research has been devoted to forms of communication between parents and children. Several studies have reported that youth from families with frequent, open (bidirectional), and positive communication are less likely to become involved with drugs. These youth are also more likely to have abstinence-based norms than are youth from families in which this kind of dialogue is absent (Baumrind, 1991; Block, Block, & Keyes, 1988; Brody et al., 1998; Brody & Schaffer, 1982; Coombs, 1988; Kafka & London, 1991; Reis, 1996; Smetana, 1987). With respect to frequency, Gil, Vega, and Biafora (1998) found that White non-Hispanics and U.S.-born Hispanics with infrequent communication within their family were more likely to initiate drug use. Another study found that the fewer cautionary statements given to adolescents by their parents about substance use, the more likely those adolescents were to initiate substance use (Andrews, Hops, Ary, Tildesley, & Harris, 1993).

Discussions that involve both children's and parents' perspectives have been found to promote the development of conventional standards of conduct (Baumrind, 1991; Brody & Shaffer, 1982; Smetana, 1987). …

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