Pubdate: Tue, 31 Aug 1999
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Copyright: 1999 Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Author:  David Ho, Associated Press


WASHINGTON -- Most teenagers 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
the average two-parent household that was surveyed, said a report
issued yesterday 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."

Some 2,000 youths ages 12 to 17 and 1,000 parents were surveyed by
telephone in May and June. Researchers assessed the 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 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 fathers.

"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 with mothers
in monitoring their teen's conduct. And he said they should also 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. H. 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, up 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 as well.

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

The survey also found:

- -- Nearly 90 percent of teens said they felt safe in

- -- 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 points.

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