Parents who talk to their kids about their own past drug use may not be helping their kids to avoid drugs.
“Talk to your kids about drugs” has been a refrain sung to parents by anti-drug activists and in public service message for decades. But if these conversations include information about your own past drug use, a new study suggests that it could send potentially harmful mixed messages.
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studied 561 6th- to 8th-graders, most of whom were white or Hispanic, about their drug use as well as conversations they had with their parents about drugs.
Reporting in the journal Human Communications Research, the researchers say that youth whose parents discussed the dangers of drugs and their disapproval of drug use had more anti-drug attitudes. Among the Hispanic students, this was linked with lower levels of reported alcohol use, while among white students it was associated with less reported marijuana use. No effect was found for either group on smoking.
But if parents also discussed their own youthful drinking or drug use, these conversations were linked with a reduction in anti-drug attitudes. “The more often the parents talked about regret over their own use, the bad things that happened, and that they’d never use it again, the students were more likely to report pro-substance-use beliefs,” lead author Jennifer Kam said to LiveScience.
“Kids might be interpreting it as ‘Mom and Dad used, and they’re still here,’ she told NPR. This confirms prior research that suggested that having former drug addicts tell their stories to teens can glamorize the condition, rather than highlighting the risks and deterring use.
So, what’s a parent to do? Kam does not suggesting lying, but she does caution against volunteering the information unnecessarily.