Toronto Star

Feb. 21, 04:46 EDT

Strict homes may curb teen drinking, smoking

Study shows teens in highly structured households at low risk of drug abuse

The Toronto Star

WASHINGTON (AP) - Parents who impose strict rules on their teenagers have a better chance of raising drug-free children, but most set few guidelines or none at all, a research centre said Wednesday.

Sixty-one per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds are at risk of abusing cigarettes, alcohol or drugs, according to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

The study shows that teenagers who live in highly structured households are at low risk of abusing drugs, whether the children are raised by both parents, a single parent or a stepparent.

''Mothers and fathers who are parents rather than pals can greatly reduce the risk,'' said Joseph Califano, chairman of the Columbia University-based centre.

The study found that teenagers living in ''hands-off'' households were twice as likely to abuse drugs as the average teenager, and teenagers with absentee parents were four times as likely to abuse substances as children in highly structured, ''hands-on'' homes.

This was the centre's sixth annual survey of teenagers but the first time researchers focused on a parent's role in abetting risky behavior.

The study does not try to draw a cause and effect. Acknowledging that teens might not be willing to fully report illegal or unacceptable behaviour, the study measured risk, not actual substance abuse.

Results were based on telephone interviews with 1,000 youth ages 12 to 17. They were asked about their smoking, drinking or drug-taking histories or habits, the behaviour of friends, and rules set by their parents. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Parents were placed into three groups, based on about a dozen actions reported by their children. ''Hands-on'' parents consistently took 10 or more of these actions, which included: turning off the TV during dinner; banning music with offensive lyrics; finding out where their children were after school; imposing curfews; assigning regular chores; eating dinner with their children at least six nights a week.

Twenty-seven per cent of teens live in such households, researchers said.

''Halfhearted'' parents set about half these rules; the largest group of children - 55 per cent - said they lived in these households.

Eighteen per cent of teenagers described their parents as ''hands-off'' - following five or fewer of the rules.

The survey found that 51 per cent of the teenagers said they would never try an illegal drug, compared with the 60 per cent who made a similar statement in 1999 and about two-thirds said they can find drugs in their schools.

CP 1520ES 21-02-01

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