Thomas Schofield

Thomas Schofield

An Iowa State University study finds parents can help to influence their children and prevent substance use, but they have to go about it a certain way.

Thomas Schofield, an ISU professor of human development, says parents likely shouldn’t tell stories about their youthful mistakes and experiences when experimenting with drugs or alcohol, as the right message may not get through to a kid.

Schofield says, “When parents think they’re connecting with their children and reducing drug use by talking about their own drug use, or ‘When I was a teenager and I drank…,’ actually, what the children hear is that it’s normative and that it’s okay.”

The survey focused on the behavior of nearly 675 students in grades five through seven, an age range that’s considered a starting point for alcohol, tobacco and drug use.

He says the research shows parents can reduce substance abuse risks by maintaining a healthy and open relationship with their children.

“Parents do want to be sending very clear signals to the kids that substance use is something they’re not okay with, but it goes much beyond that,” Schofield says. “This isn’t a situation where you can simply tell your children ‘no.’ It’s much more about having a solid relationship with the child.”

Schofield says it’s up to the parents to be good role models in preventing substance abuse.

“We care about the opinion of people that we love and feel attached to and so that’s where a parent’s arsenal really lies,” Schofield says. “It’s having a relationship with the child and using that relationship to reinforce that, ‘Hey, this behavior is not something that we approve of,’ and it’s that connection the child feels with the parent that’s going to make the parent’s opinion matter.”

Schofield worked on this study with two colleagues from the University of California in Davis. The research is published in the Journal of Family Psychology, while the complete report can be found in the latest issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Reporting by Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City