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BYU study guides parents in helping teens avoid marijuana use

Since 35 percent of U.S. high school seniors used marijuana in 2003, it's clear that teens can’t always avoid offers to get high. Family influence on preventing teen drug use is widely acknowledged as an important factor, but specifics were murky before a new study by Brigham Young University sociologists that helps pinpoint what parents can do to help their teenagers resist peer pressure to smoke pot.

The survey of 5,000 junior high and high school students teased out the effects of specific family characteristics on teens’ use of marijuana, typically the first illegal drug tried by teens, as well as the most-abused drug. Their conclusions, published in the new issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family:

  • Teens who feel close to their fathers are less susceptible to peer influence to smoke pot.

  • Teens’ perceptions that parents would catch them for breaking “house rules” matters more than how much parents actually know about their children’s friends and activities.

  • If parents are aware of rule violations, they should confront their teenage children rather than let them think they are getting away with something.

  • The most effective parenting approach combines love and support with clear rules and consequences. Although prior research had established that children from protective families were less likely to do drugs, the combined literature was inconclusive whether families made any difference for teens at high risk. In this survey, the BYU team analyzed what happened to teens from protective families that also had friends that used marijuana.

    “Without taking anything away from the importance of mothers, these results show that dads can play a unique role in the lives of their teenagers,” said Stephen Bahr, professor of sociology.

    Bahr also said that just as adults judge the risk of being caught for speeding when they drive through a particular area, teenagers take into account the probability that their parents would find out about major rule violations.

    “The important thing is the type of relationship parents have with their children,” said Cassandra Dorius, who started the project for her master’s thesis and is lead author on the article. “Parents can be loving and warm and at the same time give their kids clear rules and limits.”

    Dorius says that being involved in teens’ lives is simpler than many parents think.

    “If your teenager is going out, you should ask who will be with them, what they will do and when they will come home,” she said. “Following up afterward shows them that you won’t be a backseat parent.”

    Teens responding to the survey scored their closeness to each parent through questions of feelings of closeness, sharing thoughts and spending time together. Three other questions measured perception that the student would be caught if they skipped school, drank alcohol or carried a handgun. When closeness to dad and perception of being caught were high, the association between peer marijuana use and individual marijuana use, normally very high, was significantly lower.

    Along with Dorius and Bahr, co-authors on the study include John Hoffmann, associate professor of sociology at BYU, and Elizabeth Lovelady Harmon, who has since completed a master’s degree in sociology at BYU.

    Writer: Joseph Hadfield

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