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Survey data released last week by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America reports that fathers talk less often with their children about drugs than do mothers. The data were drawn from the Partnership’s latest Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS).
The data, released on Father’s Day, found that only 37 percent of fathers have talked with their kids "four or more times" in the past year about drugs, compared to 45 percent of mothers. Research has shown drug use is lower among teens who report learning a lot about the risks of drugs at home.
"Those of us who are fathers have to step up to the plate and start talking with our kids about the dangers of drug use and other risky behaviors," said Tom Hedrick, director and founding member of the Partnership. "The ever-changing drug landscape facing our kids today presents new drug threats, like teens’ abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Not enough young people are getting a clear message about substance abuse, and research shows parents talking with kids early and often can make all the difference. We simply can’t rely on mothers to do all of the heavy lifting."
The survey data also found fathers were less likely to see negative consequences in use of some drugs. Less than half of fathers report believing that if their child smokes marijuana, they will face consequences such as difficulty coping with life’s problems and getting along with family.
The data also indicate:
• Fathers are significantly more likely to think it would be difficult for their child to get prescription medicines without a doctor’s prescription. (54 percent of fathers vs. 47 percent of mothers).
• Fathers were less likely to use "parenting skills" such as monitoring their child’s activities, making and enforcing rules, and asking about their child’s day and who they were with.
• If they thought their child had a problem with drugs or alcohol, fathers were more likely than mothers to say they would first handle it themselves (28 percent of fathers vs. 17 percent mothers). Mothers were more likely to first look outside for help.
Research from the Partnership has shown that kids who learn a lot about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to half as likely to use; however only one-third of teens says they learn a lot about drugs from their parents.
Previously reported data from PATS found teen drug use trending downward in the United States. Lifetime use of any illegal drug is down by 14 percent over the last six years (from 51 percent in 1998 to 44 percent in 2004). Over the past six years, marijuana trial or lifetime use has declined 12 percent (from 42 to 37 percent). And teen trial or lifetime use of Ecstasy, which peaked in 2001, has declined by 25 percent (from 12 to nine percent).
"The progress we’re making in reducing teen drug use tells us that drugs don’t have to be considered a teenage right of passage," said Hedrick. "Attitudes are everything.
When it comes to our kids, parents — as well as grandparents, mentors and other adults — are much more powerful in shaping their opinions about drugs than we often realize."
Responsible Fatherhood Toolkit Resources from the Field
- Fathers Incorporated. (2013). Responsible Fatherhood Toolkit Resources from the Field. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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