December 21, 2015 —

Every month, we’re keeping you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at the risks associated with teen substance use with and without parents’ knowledge.

Some parents think that if their teenager is going to take part in risky activities, like drug or alcohol use, it is better that they do so with their knowledge under their own roof. These moms and dads believe that parental awareness about what is going on will make teens more responsible and prevent unsafe situations given the controlled atmosphere. Conversely, other parents have argued that this mindset actually promotes riskier teen behaviors. So which is it? Are teens who drink or use drugs with their parents’ knowledge protected from the undesirable consequences associated with substance use? According to a new study, not necessarily.

New research by FCD Prevention Works presented at the American Public Health Association 2015 Annual Meeting found that regardless of whether or not teens’ parents knew about their drug and alcohol use, teens were still at risk for experiencing negative consequences. The researchers surveyed more than 50,000 students from sixth to 12th grade from 24 countries over five years, all of whom were all enrolled in a substance abuse prevention program by FDC Prevention Works. The study revealed trends among students who used drugs and alcohol with and without their parents’ knowledge, as well as the frequency and prevalence of 21 different drug-related harmful consequences, such as feeling sick, fighting with friends, getting injured and long-term outcomes like having a desire to drink in the morning and guilt.

Unsurprisingly, more students (62%) reported that their parents did not know that they drank or used drugs at home, while 38% of teens reported that their parents were aware of their substance use. Approximately 85% of all teenagers surveyed said that they experienced at least one adverse effect of alcohol or drug use. Adolescents who said that their parents did not know about their substance use were between two and five times more likely to report a negative consequence from drug or alcohol use. However, while teens who used substances with their parents’ knowledge were protected against certain consequences, like feeling guilty about drinking and becoming inebriated, this group also experienced a higher risk for other repercussions, such as needing a drink first thing in the morning and drinking alone.

Although it may be easy to give in and allow your son or daughter to use substances in what you see as a safe environment, your teen can still be adversely impacted. And while parental knowledge of risky behavior reduces the incidence of some consequences for teens, underage drinking and illicit drug use can lead to other negative outcomes. Parents should openly communicate the risks of substance use with their teens so that they are adequately informed and can make healthy choices. In addition, parents should take a proactive approach to remain conscious of how their teens are spending their time in order to minimize risky decision-making. By educating your teen about the risks of substance use and effectively monitoring their activities, you can raise your teen to make safe decisions in and outside of your home.

What advice would you give to other parents for talking to their teens about the risks of drug and alcohol use? Please share with us in the comments below!