Talk With Your Teens

Parents need to listen to their adolescents about drug use, other issues

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FRIDAY, March 26, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Listening is a two-way street when it comes to parent-teenager discussions about drug use and other issues.

Parents need to listen to their teens before their teens will listen to them, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researcher John Caughlin says. He believes public service ads that advise parents to "just talk" to their teens about drugs because they'll listen are misleading.

Caughlin, a professor of speech communication, says his research shows that if parents haven't already established a pattern of listening to their teenagers, "there is a decent chance that the teen will not listen to the parent when the topic turns to drugs and alcohol."

He studied 57 parent-adolescent pairs to find out if parents and teens who frequently engaged in a communication pattern known as "demand/withdraw" tended to have negative health outcomes such as poor self-esteem and drug use among the teens.

Demand refers to nagging or criticizing and withdraw means avoiding discussing issues that related to the other person's criticisms.

The study found teen drug use could be predicted by examining teen-parent discussions that weren't directly related to drugs.

Caughlin says this "suggests that communication patterns that are established for dealing with everyday conflicts may influence the way parents and adolescents deal with discussions of more serious issues like adolescents' health-risk behaviors."

While anti-drug campaigns focus on talking to children about drugs, discussions about other topics may also be crucial.

"In addition to such anti-drug conversations, it may be just as important to help parents and adolescents learn constructive strategies for dealing with conflicts regarding mundane issues," Caughlin says.

The study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about teens and drugs.

SOURCE: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, news release, March 19, 2004

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