Four Families, Four Parenting Styles: Which Lead to Adolescent Drug Abuse?

Family 1: The Authoritarian Style

In this family, everything is black and white. The father rules with an iron fist and the mother supports him in all ways. The kids learn early on not to argue with their parents, and not to question any rules of the house. Things are done one way and one way only. Anything else results in punishment. Right is right and wrong is wrong. The kids have no input, no bargaining power and no voice. When they enter middle school and start learning about drugs and alcohol from their peers, mom and dad lay down the law: never in our house. The consequences will be dire. When the kids try to ask questions, they are shut down. The word is final: don’t do drugs, ever. Don’t drink, ever. There’s no need to know anything about drugs and alcohol, because drugs and alcohol are not an option. End of discussion.

Family 2: The Authoritative Style

In this family, there’s a little bit of gray area. The parents have strong ideas about what they believe is right and wrong, but they do not force them on their children as absolutes. Early in life, the kids learn that there will be consequences for breaking the house rules, but the reasons behind the rules are explained calmly and with loving care. The kids are allowed to ask questions, voice their opinions and possibly even change their parents’ minds about some things. When they enter middle school and start learning about drugs and alcohol from their peers, mom and dad sit down with them and have open and honest discussions about the issues. They talk about the pros and cons of experimentation, and the consequences both at home and out in the world for drinking and doing drugs. The discussion is ongoing and based on facts. As the kids learn more from their peers, they ask their parents more. They get straight answers and they become well informed.

Family 3: The Indulgent Style

In this family, it’s pretty much a free-for-all, and the operating philosophy is laissez-faire. The parents are loving, affectionate and kind to the kids, but there are very few hard-and-fast rules in this household, and since there are very few rules, there are very few consequences. The parents believe that children intuitively know what’s best for them, and believe that the best policy is to let them be, and simply support and love them. The kids learn at a young age that they can set their own bed times, eat what they want, play how they want and come and go as they please. When they do break one of the few household rules, they quickly learn how to negotiate themselves out of any consequences. When they enter middle school and start learning about drugs and alcohol from their peers, mom and dad tell them that they are free to experiment and learn for themselves. Their parents set very few rules, and therefore, offer very few consequences.

Family 4: The Neglectful Style

In this family, there is very little love, almost no affection, and the children are largely ignored. For a variety of reasons, the parents are too caught up in themselves to pay attention to their kids. They provide for their basic food and shelter, and that’s it. Rules are rare and consequences are inconsistent. When the kids enter middle school and learn about alcohol and drugs from their peers, they are left to their own devices. The parents do not take the time to educate them, make rules, or pay any attention to the new life phase the kids are entering. As such, the kids are forced to learn about drugs and alcohol for themselves, make their own decisions based on whatever knowledge they do find, and suffer whatever consequences given to them by the world.

Which Parenting Style Works Best?

In his article “Which parenting style is more protective against adolescent substance use? Evidence within the European context” published in June 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence (Vol. 138), Amador Calafat et al. conclude that, of the parenting styles described above, the first and fourth put kids most at risk for adolescent drug abuse. His evidence suggests that both the indulgent and the authoritative styles can be equally effective in deterring adolescent drug use, and that: “… extremes are not effective: neither authoritarianism nor absence of control and affection. A good relationship with children works well. In this respect, it can go hand in hand with direct control (known as ‘authoritative’ or democratic style) or not (style wrongly called ‘indulgent’)” The volume of adolescents involved in this study is impressive—over 7,000 teens between the ages of 11 and 19 were interviewed. The sheer numbers, combined with the simple fact that the conclusions pass a laypersons “sniff” test, give this study a practical weight. It’s logical that kids living under an authoritarian regime might want to rebel, and experiment with drugs, and it’s also logical that kids with no guidance at all—the neglected kids—will likewise find their way into trouble. The middle path is best, communication is essential and knowledge is power.

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