- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2001

Teen-agers with parents who enforce curfews and monitor their children's TV and music habits are less likely to use drugs, says a report released yesterday by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

"Mothers and fathers who are parents rather than pals can greatly reduce the risk of their children smoking, drinking and using drugs," said Joseph Califano, president of CASA, an umbrella national organization based at Columbia University that studies substance abuse.

However, seven in 10 youths are living in households where their parents have few or no rules for their children's behavior.

Teens with parents who are "hands off" and impose no restrictions on them are at four times the risk to smoke, drink or use drugs than teens living in a house with rules. Whether living with both parents or a single parent, teens are better off with "hands on" parenting, the survey says.

"Parental power is the most underutilized tool in combating substance abuse," Mr. Califano said, noting that many teens now say they can get access to marijuana in a day or less.

Despite the conventional wisdom that teens want their parents to give them freedom, the survey of 1,000 youths ages 12 to 17 found that teens with parents who set rules have better relationships with their parents.

"Our teen-agers are giving parents permission to be parents," said Brent Coles, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, who joined Mr. Califano in releasing the survey. "It seems simple, but it's hard work to be a parent."

The more times a week teens eat dinner with their parents without the TV on the less the children's risk of becoming substance abusers. Youths who do not eat with their parents have double the risk of using drugs than those who eat dinner as a family every night.

For the sixth straight year, teens reported drugs as the greatest concern facing people their age. The majority said they were worried about how drugs could ruin their lives or cause harm.

The fact that drugs are illegal concerned only 2 percent of those surveyed.

Mr. Califano said he was disturbed by findings that 60 percent of high school students attend schools where drugs are used, kept or sold.

Last year, 60 percent of teens said they would never use drugs. This year only 51 percent said they planned not to use drugs.

Not surprisingly, the chances of teens using drugs more than doubles when they attend a school with drugs in its halls and lockers.

"When parents feel as strongly about drugs as they do about asbestos, we will have drug-free schools," said Mr. Califano, former secretary of health, education and welfare.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley called for more funding from local, state and federal governments to combat teen drug use.

"This is an urgent life-and-death issue," Mr. O'Malley said. "If this is a war on drugs, then governors and Congress people need to start putting dollars in it."

The CASA findings about parents fit "a lot with my observations," psychologist Sylvia Rimm said.

She explained that she recently was with several dozen high school students who were asked about shock rapper Eminem's music.

"I was amazed that the kids said their parents didn't have any objection to their listening to Eminem. Nobody said anything. And all I could think of was, 'Come on. There should be some noes in the world.' "

Many parents have lost control of their children because they gave them too many choices too much power when they were small, said Mrs. Rimm, a syndicated columnist. This power isn't easily reclaimed when the children become teens, which may explain why some parents feel powerless, she said.

Parenting children and teens takes different skills, said sociologist and noted teen researcher Michael D. Resnick. He believes that parents can't run the lives of their teens or the youths "will run in the other direction."

However, that doesn't mean parents should be "wimpy, laissez-faire, hands off, 'Do what you want, dear,' " he said. "It means having clear expectations and boundaries and providing the rationale and reason for those boundaries, so the kids know where you are coming from and why."

Parents need more support from society, said Jim Feldman, spokesman for Kids Peace: The National Center for Kids Overcoming Crisis, a nonprofit organization based in Orefield, Pa.

"Parents and caretakers have a tremendous amount of power [over children], and we need to empower that group of people with as many resources as we can," he said. "It's a lot easier to point fingers than it is to empower."

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