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Dialogue, Personal Example Work Best For Parents in Drug Talks With Teens

Dialogue, Personal Example Work Best For Parents in Drug Talks With Teens

Parents can more effectively advise teens about alcohol and drug use if they try dialogue before lecture and they set an everyday example, rather than give a one-time drug sermon, according to a Penn State University researcher.

Drug talks can work best when parents and teens routinely share insights on the perceived benefits and risks of drug use, says Dr. Michelle Miller-Day, associate professor of communication arts and sciences. One tactic would be for parents to ask teens what they hope to gain from use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco (e.g. relaxation, especially around the opposite sex; greater peer acceptance). The parent can then suggest wholesome alternatives to achieve the same end.

These tools for a healthy lifestyle include specific, practical advice about drinking and driving, coping with peer pressure and remembering to call for a ride when needed, Miller-Day notes. Once parents and teens learn to communicate on a regular basis about drugs, then the targeted drug talk becomes more helpful, especially before events such as a prom or dance when teens face stronger temptations to use alcohol beverages or take drugs.

Miller-Day and Dr. Ann H. Dodd, assistant dean in the University’s College of Agricultural Sciences, are co-authors of the paper, “Toward a Descriptive Model of Parent-Offspring Communication About Alcohol and Other Drugs,” recently published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

The Penn State study examined the taped narratives of 75 college students regarding talks with a parent about alcohol and drugs. For each of the students, a single parent was also interviewed. In the case of one of the students, both parents were interviewed, making 151   respondents in all. Both students and parents were asked to recall the methods used by parents in broaching the subjects of drugs with their teen children and to weigh their effectiveness.

In the study, 44 percent of the respondents (66 out of 151) recalled that parents talked about the potential health and legal risks of drug use, with some parents even warning about the chances of incarceration for serious drug offenses.

Miller-Day says, “Over two-thirds of the persons interviewed reported integrating ongoing socialization efforts into the fabric of their everyday lives as opposed to the more targeted one-shot ‘drug talks.'”

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