Charlotte Observer

Monday, August 30, 1999

Survey: Dads interaction with teens can reduce chance kids will smoke, drink or use illegal drugs

By LORI LESSNER
Knight Ridder Newspapers
The Charlotte Observer

WASHINGTON -- OK dads, listen up. The key to winning the war on drugs rests not with police or laws, but with you.

A national survey released Monday shows that dads who eat dinner with their children, take them to religious services and help them with their homework greatly reduce the chances their kids will smoke, drink or use illegal drugs.

Tips for parents
Here are some tips to make it easier to talk with your kids about drugs:
  • Be a good listener. Make sure your children feel comfortable asking you about drugs. Take the time to talk in a quiet, unhurried manner. Don't get angry at what you hear. If necessary, take a five-minute break to calm down before continuing.
  • Give clear messages. This way, the kids will know what is expected of them. For example, say, ``In our family we don't allow the use of illegal drugs, and children are not allowed to drink.''
  • Reserve judgment. Wait until your kids have finished and have asked you for a response. It's better to listen carefully to what is being said and try to understand the real feelings behind the words. Saying ``I am very concerned about ... `` or ``I understand that it is sometimes difficult ...'' is a better way to respond to your children than beginning sentences with ``You should ...'' or ``If I were you ...''
  • Be a model for good behavior. Kids learn by example as well as teaching. Make sure your own actions reflect the standards of honesty, integrity and fair play that you expect of your children.

Parenting advice for discouraging teen-age drug use:

  • Become active participants in your teen's life.
  • Regularly help with homework.
  • Encourage your teen to seek your help on important decisions.
  • Eat dinners frequently as a family.
  • Attend religious services regularly and make religion important to the life of your teen.
  • Praise your teen when merited.
  • Know what your teen is doing after school.
  • Know where your teen is on weekends.
Sources: A Parent's Guide To Prevention, U.S. Department of Education and the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse
``We need a return of the family dinner in America,'' said Joseph Califano Jr., president of the private National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, which conducted the study.

The trouble is that most kids don't think they can turn to their dads for advice about drugs. Nearly 60 percent of the teens surveyed said their moms are easier to talk to about drugs. Only 26 percent said the same about their dads.

One Wichita, Kan., teen-ager, 17-year-old Ashley Cook, reinforced the last statistic when she described in an interview Monday how it was much easier to turn to her mother for advice about alcohol. There were also times two years ago when Ashley got drunk at parties and called her mom for a ride home.

``Obviously she didn't approve, but she would never say I was a bad person,'' said Ashley, now a senior at East High School. ``She would listen and give advice.''

Ashley's parents divorced last year, just after she stopped drinking. Although she sees her dad twice a week and says they have a good relationship, she feels more comfortable talking to her mother about alcohol and other problems.

With her mom's help, she said, she realized she had a self-esteem problem and that she didn't need to drink alcohol to have fun at parties.

Conversations like Ashley's need to take place with both parents in virtually every American family to overcome the nation's drug problem, said Califano.

``This problem is going to be solved across the kitchen table, in the living room, in the church, in the classroom. And when we begin to appreciate that in this country, we will make a lot more progress on this problem,'' he said.

The latest statistics on teen-age drug use, also gathered in the survey, show how far parents have to go:

--About 14 million teens ages 12 to 17 are at moderate or high risk of using illegal substances, based on their habits and relationships.

--Children in two-parent homes who don't get along with their fathers are 68 percent likelier to experiment with illegal substances than teens in supportive two-parent homes.

--Children raised by single mothers are at a 30 percent higher risk than in supportive two-parent homes.

The telephone survey last April of 2,000 boys and girls and 1,000 parents found some bright spots, said Califano, a former secretary of health, education and welfare: Nearly 45 percent of teens who have never smoked marijuana said they credited their parents with that decision. And 60 percent of teens said they don't expect to use drugs in the future, compared with 51 percent in 1998.

About 13.6 million Americans use illicit drugs, according to a federal study released earlier this month. Marijuana continues to be the most popular.

That study, released by the Department of Health and Human Services, concluded that drug use by older teens and young adults increased about 10 percent from 1997 to 1998. But among younger teens, use fell 15 percent in the same period.

To continue that downward trend, teens need support to foster a sense of self-worth and belonging, experts say. And that help doesn't always have to come from mom or dad, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse suggests.

``As long as they have that love and support from an adult important to them, that's what counts,'' said Mary Campuzano, vice president for programs at the Kansas Health Foundation.

The foundation, a philanthropy based in Wichita, is sponsoring newspaper, radio and television ads in Kansas over the next year to raise awareness of the need for adults to get involved in children's lives. ``I'm your neighbor,'' one doe-eyed child says in an ad. ``I'm your niece,'' another child says. A third is ``the kid you bumped into at the grocery store.

For the teen portion of the anonymous survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, the margin of error was plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, and for the parents, plus or minus 3.1. Researchers were unable to break down results by father or stepfather to see whether there were any differences in the way the children turned to them.

(c) 1999, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.