- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2000

The fact that Mothers' Day precedes Fathers' Day on the calendar may be appropriate because research confirms mothers tend to come first in children's lives. For instance, twice as many teens say it is easier to talk to Mom than Dad about drugs (57 percent compared to 26 percent).
While 45 percent of teens have discussed drugs with both parents, almost 4 times as many adolescents conducted these discussions with mothers alone (15 percent) than just with fathers (4 percent). Likewise, the YMCA found fathers are more disconnected than mothers from their teen-agers. Nearly half of all dads (47 percent) want to spend more time with teens, compared to 38 percent of mothers who say they need more time with their youngsters.
This Fathers' Day, we should remind Dad that when it comes to substance abuse like all educational issues families will be more effective if he becomes an equal partner with Mother in delivering critical messages.
Parents are the single biggest influence on kids' behavior relative to drugs. A September 1999 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) revealed that 42 percent of teens who don't use marijuana credit parental advice over all other factors in reaching this decision.
The CASA study notes that the quality of relationship determines a parent's effectiveness in communicating. For instance, children growing up in a home headed by a single mother with whom the youngsters have an excellent relationship are 62 percent less likely to abuse substances than kids in a two-parent family who have a fair or poor relationship with Dad.
The same report indicates that moms deserve the credit for much of the ground gained with kids. Teens are 3 times likelier to rely solely on mothers than fathers (27 percent vs. 9 percent) when important decisions need to be made.
Even though talking about drugs can be difficult, dads and moms aren't alone in spreading the word. Parents are supported by an array of professionally researched and produced public service announcements.
In 1998, with bipartisan support of the Congress and the president, the Office of National Drug Control Policy created the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign to educate youth to reject illicit drugs. The campaign relies on ads developed by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. In less than two years, this anti-drug information has become ubiquitous in the lives of America's youth. With an unprecedented blend of public and private partnerships, non-profit community service organizations, volunteerism, and youth-to-youth communications, the advertisements have reached Americans of diverse backgrounds wherever they work, learn, and play.
Parenting tips are available at the multilingual Web site www.theantidrug.com, which is devoted exclusively to helping folks talk with youth about illicit drugs. The site allows parents to receive biweekly parenting tips by e-mail and download English or Spanish brochures called "Parenting Skills: 21 Tips and Ideas to Help You Make a Difference." The brochure can also be ordered online or by phone at 1-800-788-2800.
Although we have had recent successes in reducing juvenile drug-use rates, they are still unacceptably high. The National Household Survey disclosed that teen drug use fell by 13 percent from 1997 to 1998. Nevertheless, 1 in 4 high school seniors uses illicit drugs on a past-month basis. This data underscores the difficulty of reversing drug use once it has begun and the importance of keeping kids from experimenting with drugs. Children want good relationships with parents and long to hear Dad's opinions.
Dads can have a tremendous impact on their offspring's use of illegal substances. Research released by the U.S. Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families found that girls without fathers are almost 40 percent more likely to abuse drugs. Similarly, Child Development discovered that children whose fathers are actively involved in their lives tend to have fewer behavioral problems even when the father doesn't live at home.
Countless studies still suggest "father knows best." His wisdom matters deeply to children. This Fathers' Day when the kids come bearing gifts, spend some of that extra time steering loved ones away from substance abuse and toward the stuff of which dreams are made.

Barry R. McCaffrey is the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

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