Close teen-par­ent bond helps steer life choices

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - RE­BECCA HAGELIN

Par­ents worry. I think it’s part of our job de­scrip­tion To­day’s cul­ture also gen­er­ates plenty of rea­sons to worry, es­pe­cially over the daily temp­ta­tions our teens face. A week­end drive by the lo­cal strip mall, skate park or movie the­ater sug­gests that teens have lit­tle dif­fi­culty ob­tain­ing cig­a­rettes, al­co­hol or drugs. I sus­pect that most stu­dents in any public high school could tell you in two sec­onds flat which stu­dents sell drugs or where to get pot or al­co­hol for a week­end party.

Re­search data sup­port the anec­do­tal ev­i­dence that par­ents have good cause to worry. A re­cent sur­vey from the Na­tional In­sti­tute on Drug Abuse re­ported that teen mar­i­juana use is up for the fourth straight year and the num­ber of daily pot smok­ers has hit a 30-year peak. The gate­way to mar­i­juana use of­ten is cig­a­rette smok­ing — and teens con­tinue to smoke de­spite of nu­mer­ous public health mes­sages and school-based cam­paigns against smok­ing.

The U.S. sur­geon gen­eral re­cently is­sued a re­port show­ing that nearly 1 in 5 teens smokes cig­a­rettes. Al­co­hol use also con­tin­ues to be a prob­lem for our na­tion’s chil­dren. While gen­eral lev­els of al­co­hol use have de­clined slightly, the per­cent­age of teens who en­gage in risky binge drink­ing may be as high as 1 in 4.

Drug ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams and public ser­vice an­nounce­ments about drug use haven’t seemed to for­tify our teens against the temp­ta­tion to ex­per­i­ment with or use to­bacco, drugs or al­co­hol.

So it’s no sur­prise that par­ents want sound ad­vice on how to min­i­mize the risk that their child will smoke, drink or use il­le­gal sub­stances.

What do par­ents need to know? Re­la­tion­ships mat­ter. Re­la­tion­ships with par­ents and friends are cru­cial fac­tors in whether a teen re­sists or gives in to the temp­ta­tions to smoke, drink or use drugs.

First, the strength of the par­ent-teen re­la­tion­ship car­ries sig­nif­i­cant weight. A new study in the Jour­nal of Busi­ness Re­search shows that teens are less sus­cep­ti­ble to neg­a­tive peer in­flu­ence, es­pe­cially re­gard­ing to­bacco and al­co­hol use, when their re­la­tion­ship with their par­ents is strong and nur­tur­ing and pro­vides the teen with a strong sense of self.

Par­ents can nur­ture their teen’s strong sense of self by set­ting clear ex­pec­ta­tions, pro­vid­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for the child to earn in­creas­ing in­de­pen­dence, and pro­ject­ing warmth, af­fir­ma­tion, love and for­give­ness.

Ado­les­cence is a bumpy road. Our teens need to know we love them, even when they take a wrong turn or lose their way. At the same time, we need to help them read the road signs clearly — some roads lead to un­mis­tak­able ruin and must be avoided at all costs.

Sim­i­larly, the friends who ac­com­pany a teen on his or her ado­les­cent jour­ney have the po­ten­tial to in­flu­ence him or her for bet­ter or worse. Not all teens are equally sus­cep­ti­ble to peer in­flu­ence. (And some­times, peer in­flu­ence can be good and help­ful in keep­ing our teens on the right track, point­ing them to­ward safe roads and away from deadly ter­rain.)

But re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Virginia point out in an ar­ti­cle in Child De­vel­op­ment that teens are more likely to drink, smoke or use drugs if their friends do. And if a teen’s sub­stance-us­ing friend is well­liked in the wider peer group, that friend’s in­flu­ence in­creases.

Sim­ply be­ing ex­posed to a friend’s sub­stance use may make the teen more sus­cep­ti­ble to im­i­tat­ing the friend’s pat­terns — even with­out the tra­di­tional “peer pres­sure.” A teen may be sus­cep­ti­ble to sub­stance use less be­cause of pres­sure and more be­cause of un­con­scious mod­el­ing — he or she sim­ply wants to be like the pop­u­lar friend. And when a teen lacks a warm re­la­tion­ship with his or her par­ents — par­tic­u­larly when the young per­son lacks ma­ter­nal sup­port — the teen is even more sus­cep­ti­ble to neg­a­tive peer in­flu­ence.

Work hard at build­ing and main­tain­ing a strong, warm re­la­tion­ship with your teen. But pay par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to your teen’s friends — sub­stance-us­ing friends are a GPS point­ing your teen in the wrong di­rec­tion.

For prac­ti­cal tips on how to build the re­la­tion­ships nec­es­sary for healthy liv­ing, learn more about my book “30 Ways in 30 Days to Save Your Fam­ily” at­tosavey­our­fam­ and then bor­row it from your lo­cal li­brary.

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