Parental monitoring can reduce teen substance and alcohol use: Study

May 31, 2024

According to the results of a new study, adolescents are significantly less likely to consume alcohol, smoke, or use drugs when their parents stay informed about their activities.

The research study, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, also found that it was not fear of punishment that deters teenagers from such behaviour, but rather the awareness that their parents are aware of their actions.

The study’s results were obtained from survey responses from over 4,500 adolescents aged 11 to 15 years old from 21 communities across the United States. In addition, participants were asked about their substance use in the past month, including whether their parents found out about it. The adolescents also completed a standard questionnaire on parental monitoring (including questions about how often their parents knew their whereabouts or asked about their plans for the day).

It was found that 3.6% of teenagers reported using alcohol or drugs in the past month, and there was no evidence that parents’ monitoring increased their likelihood of finding out about this behaviour.

Moreover, some of the participants said there were instances in the past month when they had planned or had the chance to drink or use drugs, but they chose not to out of fear of their parents discovering it. The study showed that the teenagers’ fear of such behaviour being found out by their parents decreased potential substance use by 40%.

“The assumption has been that monitoring works because parents are more likely to catch substance use and make sure there are consequences—grounding their kids or taking away their smartphones, for example,” said Dr. William Pelham, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego and the lead researcher of the study in his interview with Medical News. “That, in turn, might keep kids from making the same mistake twice.”

Furthermore, Dr. Pelham noted that understanding why parental monitoring works is important to give parents more specific advice on how to do it. However, the study’s authors also caution that these findings may not apply to older teenagers with more severe substance use issues, where negative consequences may play a more significant role.