Pubdate: Tue, 31 Aug 1999
Source: Charlotte Observer (NC)
Copyright: 1999 The Charlotte Observer
Author: DAVID HO, Associated Press


Survey finds teens prefer talks with Mom

WASHINGTON- Most teen-agers find it easier to talk about drugs with their
mothers than with their fathers, and those who don't get along with their
fathers are at far greater risk of smoking, drinking and using drugs, a
survey found.

Teens in two-parent families who have fair or poor relationships with their
fathers are 68 percent more likely to use drugs than those in average
families, said a report issued Monday by the private National Center on
Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

By comparison, children raised by their mothers alone were only 30 percent
more likely to use drugs than those living in the average two-parent home.

"Too many fathers are just AWOL in their kids' lives," Joseph Califano, the
research center's chairman, told a news conference. "They're not there to
help with homework, and kids don't go to them with important problems."

In the telephone survey of 2,000 youths ages 12 to 17 and 1,000 parents,
researchers assessed teens' risk of drug use by asking, among other things,
if they had friends who use drugs and if they thought they would use drugs
themselves in the future.

Mothers influence their children's important decisions three times as often
as fathers, and they are more likely to have private talks about drugs, the
study found. Fifty-eight percent of teens said they had very good or
excellent relationships with their fathers, compared with 70 percent with
their mothers.

Fifty-seven percent said it was easier to talk to their mothers about drugs;
26 percent preferred talking to their fathers. The remaining 17 percent said
they did not know.

It has been difficult to encourage fathers to be close to their children
because "fatherhood has not been culturally valued," said Don Eberly,
chairman of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a private support group for

"It matters a lot more that the father not only be present but emotionally
engaged, that the father is investing his life in his children, that he
knows his children, that he's a friend to his children," Eberly said.

Califano said fathers should ask themselves if they join mothers in
monitoring their teens' conduct. He said they also should ask, "How often do
I eat meals with my children?"

The study found that children who never have dinner with their parents have
a 70 percent greater risk of substance abuse.

Parents should take the survey results as a "back-to-school" reminder to
support their children and ask them questions, said Dr. Westley Clark,
director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at the Department of
Health and Human Services.

"Too often, people think of the parenting role as the mother's job, and this
reminds us that the family is the children, the mother and the father where
possible," he said.

Speaking to children about drugs should start early because "the opportunity
for parents to impact their teen's thinking about illegal drugs diminishes
as the teen gets older," the survey's authors said. They found that 34
percent of 12-year-olds reported excellent relationships with their parents,
but that plummets to 14 percent by the time the teens turn 17.

Supporting recent studies that overall youth substance abuse has leveled
off, the survey found that 40 percent of teens said the drug situation at
school is getting worse, down from 55 percent in 1998. And more teens, 60
percent, said they don't expect to use a drug in the future, an increase of
9 percentage points since 1998.

Parents were more pessimistic, with 45 percent thinking their children will
someday use drugs.

This "parental resignation often reflects their own drug-using behavior,"
said Califano, a former secretary of health, education and welfare. Of those
parents who had tried marijuana, 58 percent thought their kids would try it,

The anonymous survey also found that teens who said their fathers have more
than two drinks a day have a 71 percent greater risk of substance abuse.

The survey also found:

Nearly 90 percent of teens said they felt safe in school.

More than half said they attended a school where drugs were used, and 20
percent said that if they wanted to buy marijuana, they could get it in less
than a half-hour.

Almost half of teens who had never used marijuana credited their parents
with their decision.

For the teen portion of the survey, the margin of error was plus or minus
about 2 percentage points; for the parents, plus or minus about 3 percentage

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