Study Shows Parents Still in the Dark with Teen Drug Use


It’s an old story with new data to back it up. Parents with teens are still kidding themselves when it comes to drug and alcohol use in their children. “Not my kid,” is the mantra. And it’s still just as wrong as when they were growing up.

In an audio recording(available at the link), Dr. Sipes, a clinical psychologist, discusses a new study out of the University of Michigan. In it, parents report a ten percent rate of alcohol use in their own teens (and five percent for marijuana). Simultaneously, the same parents believe the overall rate for use of these two substances among teens as 60% (alcohol) and 40% (marijuana).

That’s not so surprising. Other people’s children are doing it, but not mine. The problem is that “other people’s kids” are your kids too. The actual percentage reported for alcohol and marijuana use among teens is 72% for alcohol and 36.8% for marijuana (CDC report, 2009). That means parents are aware of the problem generally, but the risk to their own child is downplayed. The truth, of course, is that those percentages are drawn from the teen population at large – all of the parents who are underreporting can’t be right. In fact, a significant majority are simply wrong. Mathematically, their child is trying alcohol or drugs without their knowledge.

These figures illustrate that either parents aren’t very observant, or their teen is just good at hiding their use. The larger impact may be in whether funding is approved for drug and alcohol programs in this age group. If parents aren’t cognizant of the problem under their own roofs, it is less likely they will see substance abuse in teens as something society needs to address. It might matter when the votes are cast.

Meanwhile, parents will continue to be blindsided when their child gets arrested for minor in possession or the substance abuse becomes impossible to conceal. And we also have to ask, “Is it better to know?” The answer is a resounding “yes.” Experts tell us teens will admit if they’ve tried drugs or alcohol when parents ask in a non-judgmental way. Ignorance isn’t bliss in this case. Teens need our help and advice. Without it, they are left finding their own way through an area of life than has the potential to completely ruin a life.


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