Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

"Other Teens Drink, but Not My Kid": Does Parental Awareness of Adolescent Alcohol Use Protect Adolescents from Risky Consequences?

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

"Other Teens Drink, but Not My Kid": Does Parental Awareness of Adolescent Alcohol Use Protect Adolescents from Risky Consequences?

Article excerpt

This study included 199 White mother-adolescent dyads and 144 White father-adolescent dyads. All adolescents reported regular alcohol use, yet less than one third of parents were aware of their adole.scents' drinking. Parental awareness of adolescent alcohol use served to protect adolescents by moderating the relation of parents' responsiveness to episodes of drinking and driving. Aware parents were more likely than unaware parents to believe their adolescents' close friends drank alcohol. Aware mothers worried more about their adolescents ' risky behaviors and discussed them more frequently with their adolescents. Aware fathers held values less disapproving of adolescent alcohol use and were less apt to perceive their community as supportive.

Key Words: adolescents, alcohol use. parenting.

Despite public concern and media hype surrounding drug use by adolescents, studies have confirmed that American adolescents use of some illicit drugs, including cocaine, hallucinogens, and heroin, is minimal. In a 1995 national survey, only from 1% to 4% of eighth, lOth, and 12th graders reported using any of these substances in the previous 30 days. The use of other substances during the month preceding the study was more prevalent, with from 9%Sc to 21% of students reporting marijuana use and from 19% to 34% reporting cigarette use. Alcohol use was even higher, with 25% of eighth graders, 39% of lOth graders, and 51 % of 12th graders reporting that they drank in the previous month (Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman, 1996). Public attention has been misdirected at adolescents' use of illicit drugs, even though licit drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco, cause more deaths in the United States than all other drugs combined (Ellickson, 1992) and may, in the long run, pose a greater risk to the developing adolescent and more harm to society (Kandel, Single, & Kessler,1976; Newcomb & Bentler, 1989).

Clearly, the drug of choice among adolescents, even those in early adolescence, is alcohol (Kandel et al., 1976; Smart, Chibucos, & Didier, 1990). Alcohol use by adolescents jeopardizes their development. For example, alcohol use often occurs with other risky behaviors, such as delinquency, unprotected sexual activity, and dropping out of school (Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992; Levy, Lampman, Handler, Flay, & Weeks, 1993). Moreover, when use begins before age 15, adolescents increase their risk of later drug dependency by 6-10 times (Robins & Przybeck, 1987). Alcohol use also has been implicated in accidental injuries and death (Hawkins et al., 1992; Higgins, 1988; Irwin & Millstein, 1986). Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of disability and death among adolescents and young adults. In 1994 alcohol was involved in 29% of motor vehicle deaths of IS- to 17-year-olds and in 44% of deaths of 18- to 20-year-olds (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1995a, 1995b).

Because alcohol use is normative for many adolescents, youth must acquire values, motives, skills, and habits for avoiding negative consequences (Maccoby, 1992) when using alcohol. Parenting practices have proven to be critical influences on adolescents' decisions about alcohol use (Barnes & Farrell, 1992; Barnes, Farrell, & Banerjee, 1994; Kandel. 1986; Patterson, De Baryshe, & Ramsey, 1989; Simons, Conger, & Whitbeck, 1988), even more important than parents' own use of drugs (Brook, Whiteman, Gordon, & Cohen, 1986b; Kandel & Andrews, 1987). During adolescence, parents' attempts to control adolescents' behavior should not be abandoned or applied arbitrarily (Maccoby & Martin, 1983) but transformed into explanation, discussion, and negotiation.

One dimension of parents' management practices-their awareness of adolescent alcohol usehas received surprisingly little empirical attention, despite its pragmatic salience to practitioners involved in alcohol prevention efforts and its consistency with theoretical explanations of parenting behavior. …

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