It Takes a Village to Keep Teens Substance Free
During high school the parents of teenagers' friends can have as much effect on the teens' substance use as their own parents, according to prevention researchers.
"Among friendship groups with 'good parents' there's a synergistic effect -- if your parents are consistent and aware of your whereabouts, and your friends' parents are also consistent and aware of their (children's) whereabouts, then you are less likely to use substances," said Michael J. Cleveland, research assistant professor at the Prevention Research Center and the Methodology Center, Penn State. "But if you belong to a friendship group whose parents are inconsistent, and your parents are consistent, you're still more likely to use alcohol. The differences here are due to your friends' parents, not yours."
Cleveland and his colleagues report parenting behaviors and adolescents' substance-use behaviors to be significantly correlated in the "expected directions" in this month's issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Results show higher levels of parental knowledge and disciplinary consistency leading to a lower likelihood of substance use, whereas lower levels lead to a higher likelihood of substance use.
However if adolescents' parents are consistent and generally aware of their children's activities, but the parents of the children's friends are inconsistent and generally unaware of their own children's activities, the adolescents are more likely to use substances than if their friends' parents were more similar to their own parents.
"The peer context is a very powerful influence," said Cleveland. "We've found in other studies that the peer aspect can overwhelm your upbringing."
While long suspected to be the case, the researchers believe this to be the first study where parenting at the peer level proved to have a concrete and statistically significant impact on child outcomes.