Youth Perspective on Parental Approaches to Substance Use

Youth described the most effective approaches were those that aligned with the realities of their lives.

Reducing the harms of youth substance use is a global priority. Parents have the potential to play a key role in these efforts. However, it is felt that parents are often unsure about how to address substance use with their children. Parent responses to youth substance use are often grounded in abstinence and critiqued as ineffective and unresponsive to youth contexts.

In order to develop effective parent-targeted interventions, it is important to hear young people’s perspective.

A recent study has sought to capture youth perspectives on parental approaches to substance use. The researchers conducted 83 interviews with young people aged 13-18. 

Results were analysed in terms of themes within each research site: The City, The Valley, and The North

The City

  • In the city parents and caregivers were more likely to accept their substance use, but in moderation and with defined limits
  • Young people who were permitted alcohol within limits described resisting consuming excessive alcohol to become drunk
  • Complete freedom was viewed by participants as ineffective for supporting youth in developing strategies for self-management of substance use

The Valley

  • In the Valley, participants’ families were more likely to address substance use through a zero-tolerance or abstinence-based approach
  • Some youth felt their parents were oblivious to the possibility of youth substance use
  • Zero-tolerance approaches were frequently described as a disconnect from the realities of young people’s substance use

The North

  • In The North, youth described substance use as common in town
  • Participants’ descriptions of their community highlighted the prevalence of substance use.
  • Many participants described their parents’ substance use as shaping the family context for substance use
  • Many families attempted to navigate their children’s use by encouraging open communication and responsible use

These results illustrate the view that abstinence-only messages are not realistic in terms of the realities of youth experiences. The findings instead suggest that the most effective messages for reducing alcohol-related harm were the ones that supported youth to use alcohol within limits.

Slemon, Allie, Emily K. Jenkins, Rebecca J. Haines-Saah, Zachary Daly, and Sunny Jiao. "“You can’t chain a dog to a porch”: a multisite qualitative analysis of youth narratives of parental approaches to substance use." Harm reduction journal 16, no. 1 (2019): 26.
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