Other Teens Do Drugs, Not Mine

By Anthony Daconti 09/12/11

Teen alcohol and drug use is rife, but not in our little angels, parents believe.

Love is at least short-sighted. Thinkstock

Denial is not restricted to addicts, it seems. In a clear case of familial favoritism, the parents of 13-17 year-olds tend to overestimate teen substance use in general—while underestimating their own kids' substance use. The latest C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health from the University of Michigan shows that moms and dads operate on a widely-held belief that, “Other teens drink and use marijuana, but my kids don’t!” Researchers including Bernard Biermann, Medical Director of the Child/Adolescent Inpatient Unit at the University of Michigan, found that a mere 10% of parents believe their own teens have drunk alcohol in the last year—but they put the rate of alcohol use by "other teens" at 60%. Similarly, 5% of parents believe their own teens have used marijuana in the last year—but on average parents believe 40% of teens in general smoke pot. As Biermann identifies, “There’s a clear mismatch between what parents are reporting in terms of their children’s possible use of substances and what teenagers report themselves.“ Parents who face up to their misconceptions may wonder exactly how many teens are really using alcohol and drugs. Well, in the most recent Monitoring the Future study, 52% of 10th graders reported drinking alcohol in the last year while 28% reported using marijuana. So what should parents do? “These mismatched perceptions indicate a need for awareness and communication about teen substance abuse”, said Biermann. “Awareness is a means of opening the door to communication.” He urges parents to acknowledge the possibility—even the likelihood—of their teen using alcohol or marijuana. Talking about it, monitoring for signs of substance use, and trying not to overreact to single incidents are also recommended.

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