Most baby-boomer parents who used drugs in their youth expect their children to do the same and many feel they have little influence over their teenagers’ decisions, according to a poll released Monday.
Nearly half of all parents said they thought their teenage children would use drugs sometime, but among baby-boomer parents who had either used drugs regularly or experimentally, the proportion was much higher - about two-thirds, says a survey conducted for the National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
“What is infuriating about the attitudes revealed in this survey is the resignation of so many parents to the present mess,” said Joseph A. Califano Jr., president of the center. Califano was secretary of health, education and welfare in the Carter administration.
The study comes in the wake of government research showing that teenage drug use has been increasing rapidly over the last four years, after a long decline that began in the late 1970s. A widely publicized government survey released last month found that nearly 11 percent of adolescents 12 to 17 years old reported recent drug use, up from 5.3 percent in 1992.
In assessing responsibility for growing drug use among teen-agers, most parents questioned in the Califano survey blamed their children’s friends, the teenagers themselves and society at large. Relatively few parents held themselves accountable. Also, about 40 percent of all parents felt they had little influence over whether their teenagers smoked cigarettes, drank or used illegal drugs.
The study said that these parental attitudes at least in part reflect “how realistic parents are regarding their teens’ propensity to use drugs.”
Other experts also believe that if parents used drugs themselves, it will influence how they approach their children.
“Parents of a decade ago may have been more likely than today’s parents to talk to their children about drugs, because more of today’s parents actually used drugs when they were teens and may feel hypocritical telling their own teens not to use,” said Lloyd D. Johnston, director of the most extensive survey of adolescent attitudes toward drug use, the annual Monitoring the Future study by the University of Michigan.
Monday’s survey shows “that the best preventative is for parents to take the time to talk to their children” about the dangers of drug use, said Barry R. McCaffrey, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. McCaffrey has called on adults who have rejected drug use in their own lives to take a leading role in educating children.
Some 1,200 teenagers and an equal number of parents were questioned. The survey conducted by Luntz Research Companies, has a margin of error of less than 3 percent.
The children of parents who smoked marijuana showed a heightened propensity to use drugs, according to Frank Luntz, the pollster who directed the surveys. Parents surveyed overwhelmingly said they would tell their children of their own past drug use.
“The mere acknowledgment by a parent of having used drugs puts the kids into a more at-risk position, even when that acknowledgment is accompanied by a moral lesson,” Luntz said. “That begs a serious moral question which boomer parents will be debating for the next decade: ‘Do you tell them the truth about your own drug use or do you lie?’ “