Parents’ Expectations Can Influence Risky Teen Behavior

In this holiday season Talbot Partnership for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Prevention reminds parents that their expectations for their teens’ behavior can and do make a difference in the health and safety of their children.
The more parents expect their teens to engage in risky behaviors such as drinking and using drugs, the likelier their teens are to act on those behaviors, according to recent studies. Researchers have found that adolescents with mothers who expected them to be more rebellious and take greater risks reported higher levels of risky behavior than other adolescents during follow-up surveys. On the other hand, parents may lower the rate of risky behavior among their adolescent children by expecting them to resist negative peer pressure and instead engage in positive behavior, according a study published in the June 2009 issue of the Journal of Research on Adolescence.

“Parents who believe they are simply being realistic might actually contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said study author and Wake Forest University psychology professor Christy Buchanan. “By thinking risk-taking or rebelliousness is normal for teenagers—a Rite of Passage—and conveying that idea to their children, parents might reinforce other messages from society that make teenagers feel abnormal if they are not willing to take risks or break laws.”

The study’s recommendations for parents included modeling good behavior for their teens, exposing them to examples of positive things that other teens are doing, and making sure their teens know there are consequences to risky behavior.

The study was based on surveys of more than 200 6th- and 7th-graders and their mothers. Locally, Talbot County students responding to the 2007 MAS survey given to public school students by the Maryland State Board of Education indicated that the higher the level of parental involvement in their lives, the less they were to use alcohol and drugs.

For more information, read How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid by Joseph A. Califano, Jr., founder and chair of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Feel free also to contact Talbot Partnership at 410.819.8067 or www.talbot partnership.org.