Parents are an important influence on their teenagers’ decisions about drug and alcohol use1,2; however, it can be difficult for parents to substantively broach this all-important issue with their children. Many parents discuss substance use when their teens become more autonomous, as they begin to drive and spend more time with peers away from their parents (e.g., at parties); parents also might talk about substance use in reaction to something that has happened in the community or with one of their child’s friends.
It is important, however, for these discussions to start early—in a proactive and ongoing manner—as many children are exposed to drugs and alcohol in middle school and even earlier. Prevention and early intervention are critical to keep teenagers healthy and successful. Research has consistently shown that children who learn about the dangers of drugs at home from a caring adult are up to 50 percent less likely to use3,4.
Parents’ feeling of control over their child’s substance use behavior also is linked to youths’ avoidance of drugs and alcohol5. But many parents might be reluctant to start a conversation with their teen about substance abuse because they don’t feel confidence in their ability to do so. What exactly should they say? What facts do they have to back up their assertion that substance abuse is harmful? Will their child listen? While other programs exist to help parents talk to their children about substance abuse, they generally ignore the question of how parents feel about broaching the topic6,7. This component is a very important and often-missing piece.
Recognizing the importance of parents in preventing adolescent substance abuse, and acknowledging their lack of confidence, or self-efficacy, in addressing the issue, The Partnership at Drugfree.org developed Parents360 Plus. It is a component of the organization’s PACT360 (Police and Communities Together) community education program, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The program is designed to teach parents of 12- to 17-year-olds about substance use and provide them with tools and resources to help parents prevent it—or intervene in the case of suspected or known substance use. The program consists of a one-hour instructional presentation that provides information on why teens use drugs and alcohol, tips on communicating with them, how to spot drug and alcohol use, and what to do when they find it. Parents are given a video, called wreckED, depicting real stories of teens who have dealt with substance abuse to view with their child at home, and a discussion guide to help them talk with their teens about what they learned.
The Partnership at Drugfree.org worked with Community Science to conduct an independent evaluation of Parents360 Plus. Seventy-seven families were recruited for the Parents360 Plus study. A total of 34 parents and their 12- to 17-year old children were assigned to the intervention group that participated in the presentation; 41 parents and their children were assigned to the control group, which did not attend the presentation during the study. All participants were given a baseline survey questionnaire to establish the perceptions of parents’ communication with and monitoring of their child, knowledge and attitudes about adolescent substance use, and self-efficacy in addressing substance use issues with their child before any intervention. Both groups also received follow-up questionnaires one month and three months later.
The evaluation found that parents who received one-hour training through Parents360 Plus had significantly greater increases in measure of knowledge of substance abuse and related resources, and in confidence in their ability to communicate with their teens, compared with parents who did not receive the intervention. Intervention parents’ ratings of their knowledge increased from somewhat knowledgeable initially to knowledgeable after the intervention; control group parents’ ratings were in the somewhat knowledgeable range throughout the study. Intervention group parents’ communication self-efficacy score increased after three months, and control group parents’ score decreased.
Additionally, intervention parents felt that the information that they received from the presentation was useful, and intervention parents and youth found the wreckED DVD helpful in facilitating a conversation about drugs and alcohol. After three months, intervention group youths’ perceptions of their parents behavior and attitudes were similar to parents’ self-perceptions, suggesting that Parents360 Plus helped youth become more aware of their parents’ substance use prevention activities.
Significant differences between the two groups of parents remained even three months later, even though the parents who participated in Parents360 Plus received no follow-up information. It is generally difficult to see significant changes after a one-time intervention, and these findings are indicative of the power of the program content.
Parents360 Plus is an important early step in an overall strategy of adolescent substance abuse prevention. It was found to help increase parents’ confidence in discussing alcohol and drugs with their teens as well as equipped them with information to help them address substance use, and this confidence is a critical for parents to help prevent their children’s use8,9. It will be a valuable tool in preparing parents to put their knowledge and confidence about discussing substance abuse into practice.
1Ary, D. V., James, L., & Biglan, A. (1999). Parent-daughter discussions to discourage tobacco use: Feasibility and content. Adolescence, 34, 275-282
2Hawkins, J. D., Catalano, R. F., & Miller, J. Y. (1992). Risk and protective factors for alcohol and other drug problems in adolescence and early adulthood: Implications for substance abuse prevention. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 64-105
3Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (2011). Resources for Parents. Retrieved May 24, 2011 from http://cadasb.org/home/parents.aspx
4The Partnership at Drugfree.org (2009). The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, sponsored by MetLife Foundation. Retrieved May 24, 2011 from http://www.drugfree.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Full-Report-FINAL-PATS-Teens-2008_updated.pdf
5Hawkins et al., 1992
6Kumpfer, K. L., & Kaftarian, S. J. (2000). Bridging the gap between family-focused research and substance abuse prevention practice. Journal of Primary Prevention, 21, 169-179
7Riggs, N. R., Elfenbaum, P., & Pentz, M. A. (2006). Parent program component analysis in a drug abuse prevention trial. Journal of Adolescent Health, 39, 66-72
8Hawkins et al., 1992
9Riggs, et al., 2006
LaKeesha N. Woods, PhD is a Senior Associate at Community Science, in Gaithersburg, MD, and was the co-director of the Parents360Plus evaluation. Community Science (www.communityscience.com) is a research and development organization that works with governments, foundations, and non-profit organizations on solutions to social problems through community and other systems changes.
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