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"Other teens drink and use marijuana but my kids don't," parents say in new poll

Parents of teens likely underestimate own teens’ substance use, while overestimating marijuana and alcohol use by teens nationally

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The latest C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health from the University of Michigan finds that few parents (10 percent) believe their own teens, ages 13 to 17 years old, have used alcohol in the last year and even fewer (5 percent) believe their own teens have used marijuana in the last year.

Those levels are substantially below what teens themselves reported in the latest Monitoring the Future study, where 52 percent of 10th graders reported drinking alcohol in the last year and 28 percent of 10th graders reported using marijuana in the last year.  

“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,” says Bernard Biermann, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Medical Director of the Child/Adolescent Inpatient Unit at the University of Michigan.

These mismatched perceptions indicate a need for awareness and communication about teenage substance use, says Biermann. “Awareness is a means of opening the door to communication. If parents acknowledge the possibility – and in fact, the likelihood – that their child may have experimented with or used alcohol or marijuana, they can begin to talk to them more about it, provide some guidance, and allow their kids to ask questions.”

In the poll, Biermann and other researchers also found that parents of teens are very likely to believe that at least 40 percent of 10th graders used marijuana in the last year and that 60 percent of 10th graders drank alcohol in the last year. In other words, parents are more likely to expect marijuana and alcohol use by teenagers other than their own.   

“The results of this poll indicate the potential value of educational campaigns for the public about teen substance use – reaching out to teens, parents and other adults to encourage better communication and shared information,” says Matthew Davis, M.D., M.A.P.P., Director of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health and Associate Professor in the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the U-M Medical School. “From our previous national poll efforts, we know that the public sees drug abuse and alcohol abuse as major health concerns for children.”

What can parents do about teen substance use?
Biermann suggests:
1. Talk to your teenager about substance use in a non-threatening way.
2. Carefully monitor teens when they come home and look for signs of substance use.
3. Try not to overreact to a single instance of substance use. Instead, use the opportunity to talk to your teen in a non-judgmental way and be available as a resource for resisting peer pressure.
4. Talk with your teen’s friends and talk with other parents. Sometimes others will share information that your own child won’t.
5. Read information from resources such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to become educated about common signs and symptoms of substance abuse. 

Full reporthttp://mottnpch.org/sites/default/files/documents/091211substanceuse.pdf

C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health:

Website: www.med.umich.edu/mott/npch

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/mottnpch

Twitter: @MottNPCH

Additional resources include: Partnership for a Drug-Free America:  http://www.drugfree.org/ University of Michigan Health Library—Teen Alcohol and Drug Abuse: http://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/tp17749#tp17750

Purpose/Funding: The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health – based at the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the University of Michigan and funded by the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases and the University of Michigan Health System – is designed to measure major health care issues and trends for U.S. children.

Data Source: This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey conducted exclusively by Knowledge Networks, Inc. (KN), for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital via a method used in many published studies.  The survey was administered in May 2011 to a randomly selected, stratified group of parents ages 18 or older with a child ages 13-17 years old (n=667), from the KN standing panel that closely resembles the U.S. population. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau. The survey completion rate was 54 percent among panel members contacted to participate. The margin of sampling error is ± 2 to 5 percentage points, and larger for some subgroups.

To learn more about Knowledge Networks, visit www.knowledgenetworks.com.

Findings from the U-M C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health do not represent the opinions of the investigators or the opinions of the University of Michigan.

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