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Can Parents Prevent Teen Substance Use?

By Julia Lynn Rubin / May 27, 2013 01:10 PM EDT
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Although one in five parents think that they have little influence over their teen's decision to use tobacco, drugs or alcohol, national surveys suggest that teens who believe their parents strongly disapprove of them using the substance are less likely to try them than their peers, according to USA Today.

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The findings are based on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) annual Survey on Drug Use and Health, a nationwide survey of 67,500 Americans ages 12 and older. According to the report, nearly one in 10 parents (9.1 percent) said that they did not talk to their teens (ages 12 through 17) about the dangers of using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs in the past year. 

However, Peter Delany, director of  the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality at the SAMHSA, said parental influence over their children can strongly effect the outcomes of teen substance use.

"Any time is a good time to talk to your kids when you have a chance," Delany said to USA Today. "But if you haven't started talking to your kids, before school gets out is an especially good time. 

"In the summer months, especially around holiday weekends, kids are more likely to get involved with substances. Kids may have more access to substances when they are out of school and at holiday parties," he said.

SAMHSA administrator Pamela Hyde says that parents need to initiate "age-appropriate conversations about these issues with their children at all stages of their development in order to help ensure that their children make the right decisions."

Robert Lindsey, president and CEO of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said conversations with your children about alcohol can change as they get older. 

"Early on, it may be very basic information," he said. "As kids get older, we need to talk about the impact on health, academics, relationships, driving and the dangers of alcohol and prescription drugs."

Lindsey added that it's also important for parents to discuss family history and predisposition to alcoholism with their kids.

"Children learn as much from watching what you do as from what you say," he said, advising parents to be mindful of their non-verbal communication as well.

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