Washington, D.C. -- Many dads are AWOL in the battle to keep kids drug-free and this increases their teen's risk of substance abuse, according to a new survey of 2,000 teens and 1,000 parents released today by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA).
In its first analysis of family structure and substance abuse risk, the CASA survey found that children living in two-parent families who have a fair or poor relationship with their father are at 68% higher risk of smoking, drinking and using drugs compared to all teens living in a two-parent household. The average teen living in a household headed by a single mother is at 30% higher risk compared to all teens in a two-parent household.
CASA's survey reveals that teens consistently rate moms more favorably than dads:
71% of teens report having an excellent or very good relationship with mom; only 58% have such a relationship with dad.
More than twice as many teens say it's easier to talk to mom than dad about drugs (57% vs. 26%).
Twice as many teens who never used marijuana credit mom as credit dad with their decision (29% vs. 13%).
While 45% of teens have discussed drugs with both parents, almost four times as many teens had such discussions with mom alone (15%) than with dad alone (4%).
Teens are three times more likely to rely solely on mom than solely on dad when they have important decisions to make (27% vs. 9%).
45% of teens say mom is more demanding in terms of grades, homework and personal behavior; 39% say dads are more demanding. "This is a wake-up call for every dad in America," said CASA President and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph A. Califano, Jr. "It's time for every father in America to look in the mirror and ask: How often do I eat meals with my children? Take them to religious services? Help with their homework? Attend their games and extracurricular activities? Join mom in monitoring my teen's conduct, praising and disciplining them?"
To appreciate the importance of the child's relationship with the father in a two-parent family, Califano pointed out that children growing up in a home headed by a single mother who have an excellent relationship with their mother are at 62% lower risk of abusing substances than children in a two-parent family with a fair or poor relationship with their father.
The safest teens, identified by CASA in its analysis of the impact of family structure and relationships to substance abuse risk, are those living in two-parent homes who have a positive relationship with both parents, go to "both parents equally" when they have important decisions to make, have discussed illegal drugs with both parents and report their mom and dad are "equally" demanding of the teen in terms of grades, homework and personal behavior.
"Parent power is key to keeping our kids drug free," said Califano. "This power can be used to help or hurt. When there are two parents in the home -- and even when one is physically absent -- both mom and dad need to be engaged in their child's life. Parents have enormous power over a child's well-being but too many fail to appreciate and use this power."
More teens who don't use marijuana (42%) credit their parents over any other influence. Yet 45% of parents think it is likely their teen will use an illegal drug in the future. Parental resignation often reflects their own prior drug-using behavior: among parents who used marijuana in their youth, 58% say they expect their teen to use an illegal drug in the future; of parents who never used pot, 29% expect their teen to try an illegal drug.
LIGHTS IN THE TUNNEL
"We are still in the tunnel but we are at last seeing lights in the tunnel. Parent power can show the way out," Califano said. Teen attitudes are difficult to measure, but the lights found in the tunnel in the CASA 1999 survey are consistent with the recently released National Household Drug Survey:
The largest proportion of teens still cite drugs as their biggest problem but 23% of teens did so this year, down from 29% in 1998 and 35% in 1997.
60% of teens say they don't expect to use a drug in the future compared to 51% in 1998.
44% of teens say they attend a drug-free school compared to 31% in 1998.
40% say the drug situation in school is getting worse compared to 55% in 1998.
36% of teens say their parents never had a serious discussion with them about the risks of using illegal drugs, down from 43% last year.
"The rise in parental conversations with teens about drugs likely reflects the work of the Partnership for A Drug Free America and the Clinton Administration's anti-drug media campaign which has been based in part on CASA research and earlier CASA surveys of teens and parental attitudes," said Califano.
Some 14 million teens age 12 to 17 (60%) are at moderate or high risk of substance abuse, meaning they have friends who use marijuana, friends who drink regularly, have a classmate or friend who used acid, cocaine or heroin, can buy marijuana quickly and expect to use an illegal drug in the future.
DRUGS IN SCHOOL
CASA's survey shows the disturbing connection between a teen's substance abuse and attendance at a school where drugs are kept, used or sold. Teens who attend such a school are at twice the risk of substance abuse as teens attending a drug-free school and are nearly three times likelier to smoke cigarettes, three times likelier to have tried pot and two times likelier to know a teen who uses cocaine or heroin. Seventy-five percent of students in Catholic and other religious schools say their school is drug-free compared to 40% of public school students.
"Parent power is also key to drug-free schools," Califano added. "When parents feel as strongly about drug-infested schools as they feel about asbestos-infested schools, we'll have drug-free schools in America."
The fifth annual CASA National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse V: Teens and Their Parents, interviewed 2,000 teens age 12 to 17 (margin of error +/- 2.2% --1,000 boys/1,000 girls) and 1,000 parents - 536 moms and 464 dads (margin of error +/- 3.1%) including 555 from the same households as surveyed teens, was released today by Califano with Dr. Frank Luntz, President of Luntz Research and Steven Wagner, President, QEV Analtyics.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University is the only national organization that brings together under one roof all the professional disciplines needed to study and combat all types of substance abuse as they affect all aspects of society. CASA's missions are to: inform Americans of the economic and social costs of substance abuse and its impact on their lives; assess what works in prevention, treatment and law enforcement; encourage every individual and institution to take responsibility to combat substance abuse and addiction; provide those on the front lines with tools they need to succeed; and remove the stigma of substance abuse and replace shame and despair with hope. CASA's staff of 70 includes 16 Doctorates, 19 Masters, 2 lawyers, and 2 MDs.