While some parents might think being completely open and honest with their children is the best way to ensure they don’t make the same mistakes, one study says it could cause more harm than good.
Researchers at the University of Illinois discovered that parents who told their teens that they used drugs and alcohol in the past might be encouraging their children to try the substances, though they were likely trying to do the opposite.
The study’s co-author, Jennifer Kam, said teens might be interpreting it as “mom and dad used, and they’re still here.”
“Those children might think that their parents won’t disapprove too much if they also give illicit drugs a try,” she said.
They conducted the study by having 561 students ages 11 to 14 fill out a survey. All students were of European and Latin descent.
Researchers used these ethnic groups because they have the highest rates of alcohol and marijuana use in junior high.
The survey asked questions about the students’ attitudes towards drugs, their experiences with them, and what their parents have said about them.
They discovered that when parents talked about their own experiences with drugs and alcohol, even negative experiences, the students were more likely to experiment with them.
“Parents may want to reconsider whether they should talk to their kids about times when they used substances in the past and not volunteer such information. Of course, it is important to remember this study is one of the first to examine the associations between parents’ references to their own past substance use and their adolescent children’s subsequent perceptions and behaviors,” Kam said.
She said parents should instead focus on telling their children the negative consequences of drugs and not share their past experiences with them.
While this study seems surprising to many, licensed social worker Andreea Crauciuc said it was not news to her.
“I’ve certainly heard from teenagers what they think about their parents’ substance abuse. A lot of times what I hear is, ‘My parents turned out OK.’ The implication is that if the parents used drugs and turned out OK then the teen will, too,” she explained.