Whether it is shared family meals or having preemptive, open discussions regarding the consequences of risky behaviors, a parent’s guidance is a powerful influence on a teen. Several factors affect the overall impact of parental influence. In terms of effectiveness, at the top of the list is whether or not the teen perceives the parent-child relationship as positive.
Regarding the impact of regular family meals, a recent study out of McGill University in Montreal, Canada reported a strong correlation between frequent family meals and positive mental health outcomes among adolescents. The study used a national sample of 26,069 teens aged 11 through 15. The study’s author, professor Frank Elgar, examined the relationship between frequency of family dinners and positive and negative aspects of mental health among this population.
“We were surprised to find such consistent effects on every outcome we studied,” said Elgar. “From having no dinners together to eating together seven nights a week, each additional dinner related to significantly better mental health.”
When it comes to parental guidance regarding such topics as smoking, alcohol and drug use and sexual behavior, a study from the Department of Clinical Research (BVN), Naval Medical Center, San Diego (Nelson, B.; Patience, T.; and MacDonald, D.) examined the association between adolescents’ risk-taking behaviors and the relationship they had with their parents.
Utilizing the results based on the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System Questionnaire and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention questionnaires, 215 seventh grade students and their parents provided answers regarding smoking, alcohol use, sexual intercourse, illegal drug use and gang membership. The surveys were anonymous and the results of each student’s answers were then compared with the results of their parents. The participants were racially, socioeconomically and spiritually diverse.
This particular age group was targeted because young teens have a limited ability for abstract reasoning and parental direction plays a significant role in decision-making regarding risky behavior at this stage of their development. It has been shown that education on these activities delivered through the schools had little impact on the teen’s subsequent behaviors. The teens will affirm that they have received the information about the dangers of smoking, drinking, drugs and risky sexual behaviors, but the long-term deterrent effect on adolescents has been minimal.
However, survey results demonstrated a strong causal link during this period of cognitive development between clearly expressed parental guidance and the young teens’ subsequent choices. Regarding tobacco use, 40 percent of the students reported that one or both parents smoked. Because of this, even though the parents communicated their disapproval of their child to start smoking, 20 percent of the teens thought that their parents approved of their use of tobacco. Pertaining to alcohol use, although none of the parents approved of their child drinking alcohol, 78 percent of the adults stated that they had used alcohol in the last month. The survey showed that 80 percent of the student respondents believed their parents approved of them drinking alcohol and, subsequently, about 20 percent of the seventh graders reported drinking alcohol in the past month.
Similar correlations were found with illegal drugs. None of the parents admitted to using illegal drugs and all parents reported having discussed the dangers of illegal drugs with their teens in the prior year. None of the parents approved of their child using drugs, and none of the students thought that their parents approved of them using drugs. The corresponding rate of drug use among the study participants was very small.
With regard to sexual behavior, however, the parental message seemed to have been missed. Although the overwhelming majority of parents guided their adolescents towards abstinence and two-thirds of them discussed the risks of sexual behaviors, 20 percent of the students believed their parents approved of their sexual activity and 13 percent of the seventh graders were sexually active.
Most telling were the correlations between the behaviors and whether the teens felt the relationship with their parents was positive. Among the students who admitted to smoking, 60 percent thought the relationship with their parents was problematic, compared with 23 percent of the students who did not smoke. Similarly, 65 percent of the teens who used illegal drugs reported strained relationships with their parents versus only 28 percent of the respondents who did not use drugs.
Overall, the percentage of adolescents in the study whose parents participated as well were less likely to engage in risky behaviors compared to those whose parents who did not follow through. This suggests the importance of parental involvement and availability to a young teen. It could also explain that avoidance of these issues by parents could be associated with increased risk behavior by their young teens.
White River Academy, places an emphasis on character development in adolescent males with behavioral issues, offering life skills classes and community service oriented programs to instill qualities that lead to a productive and successful life post-recovery. For questions about White River Academy, please call 866-520-0905.