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Research shows parents still influence their college kids

New research from Brigham Young University shows that parents influence their child’s likelihood of involvement with drugs, alcohol and risky sexual activity even after their child leaves for college.

In an upcoming issue of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, family scientist Laura Walker’s study found that parents’ knowledge or awareness of what’s going on in their child’s life at college is associated with fewer risky behaviors.

Specifically, students who said their fathers were in the loop had a lower likelihood of doing drugs or engaging in risky sexual behaviors. When mothers were in the know, students were less likely to drink alcohol.

The protective effect of mothers’ awareness was more pronounced when the students also felt close to their mom. Under those circumstances, the researchers found that students were less likely to be involved in any of the three risk behavior categories studied: drugs, alcohol and risky sexual activity.

“For parents, the fact that closeness plays a strong role is a message to not be overbearing,” Walker said. “Having a close relationship promotes the child wanting to open up and share what’s going on rather than the parent having to intrusively solicit the information from the child.”

Walker and her colleagues agree that delaying adulthood results in an extension of parents’ period of service to their children. The study’s findings show that the relationships between parents and children continue to be important during the transition to adulthood.

The study involved 200 undergraduate students ages 18 to 25 from two mid-Atlantic colleges, a Midwestern university and a West Coast university. The title of the paper is “The Role of Perceived Parental Knowledge on Emerging Adults’ Risk Behaviors.” Professor Larry Nelson, also from BYU’s School of Family Life, is a co-author on the study.

Related study: Delaying adulthood to find identity has bright side

Similar research by Walker and her colleagues finds that delaying the transition to adulthood involves experimentation of a positive nature, indicating this life stage is not simply a period of risk-taking and delinquency.

In an upcoming issue of the Journal of Adolescence, Walker compared the altruism and positive values of two types of emerging adults: those who were already committed to an identity and those still in the process of exploring their identity.

The research found the two groups had few differences when it came to outward behaviors like helping other people and inward personal values such as honesty, kindness and fairness.

“The assumption too often is that delaying adulthood is automatically a negative thing, dominated by exploration with risky drinking, drug use, and sex,” Walker said. “However, these findings suggest that young people are also exploring positive behaviors and participate in society to the same degree as those who have already established their identity.”

The study involved 491 students ages 18 to 25 from two private colleges in the mid-Atlantic, two public universities in the Midwest, and a public university on the West Coast. Each student took a questionnaire about exploration and commitment to an identity. Forty-three percent scored high on commitment to an identity. Another 23 percent scored low on commitment but high on identity exploration. The researchers compared these two groups and found few differences when it came to helping other people, ideas of fairness and honesty and the role of faith in their lives.

The title of the paper is “Looking on the Bright Side: The Role of Identity Status and Gender on Positive Orientations during Emerging Adulthood.” Nelson is also a co-author on this study along with Professor Jason Carroll of BYU’s School of Family Life.

Writer: Marissa Ballantyne


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