Parental Influence on Substance Use in Adolescent Social Networks

Adolescents’ social networks and their peers’ behaviors influence their use and abuse of drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. So do parents and their parenting style—defined by how much interaction a parent has in the adolescent’s life and how much parental warmth is exhibited. The best style—with long-term benefits—is authoritative, a combination of warm and communicative parenting, while exerting parental control over a child’s behavior.

These researchers explored whether the benefits of good parenting style spill over to children’s friends and influence the child’s social network in a way that correlates with less substance abuse and greater psychological competence.

For the study, students named their school friends and researchers constructed social networks. Adolescents answered questions about their parents’ parenting behavior and maternal warmth, alcohol use, binge drinking, and smoking and marijuana use.

Not only were adolescents who had authoritative parents less like to abuse substances, their friends were too. Specifically, adolescents whose friend’s mother was authoritative were 40 percent less likely to drink to drunkenness, 39 percent less likely to smoke cigarettes, and 43 percent less likely to use marijuana than if their friend had a mother who was neglectful.

Investments in parenting education to improve parental competence “may pay off not only through the direct connection between parent and child, but through the less obvious direction of parent to child to child’s friends, as well as directly from parent to child’s friend,” the researchers write.