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Home > Young people’s views of substance use and parenting.

Dillon, Lucy (2017) Young people’s views of substance use and parenting. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 60, Winter 2017, p. 13.

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The findings of a qualitative study that sets out to explore young people’s perceptions of the mechanisms by which family processes protect or place youth at risk of substance use have been published. McLaughlin et al.’s1 work was carried out with a view to informing family-based interventions preventing drug use. They held nine focus groups with a total sample of 62 participants aged between 13 and 17 years of age. Participants were post-primary school pupils from across Northern Ireland. While schools were selected from areas with a range of multiple deprivation measure rankings, data were not collected on individual pupil’s socioeconomic status or personal experience of substance misuse. Therefore, the findings were based on hypothetical situations rather than participants’ personal experiences. This limitation was explicitly acknowledged by the authors. Nonetheless, the findings included some useful insights that can be used to inform intervention development. 

The authors identified three main themes in their analysis of young people’s views of how family processes can protect or increase the risk of engaging in drug use: parent‒child attachment; parenting style; and, parent and sibling substance use. In their discussion, McLaughlin et al. identified a number of messages for parenting interventions. These include:

  • Parenting programmes should emphasise ways to support positive attachments between parent and child. Programmes could educate parents on the importance of spending ‘quality time’ with their children and support them in improving their skills for communicating with their children.
  • They should teach authoritative parenting styles and parental monitoring, ensuring participants have the skills to implement these at home.
  • They should provide parents with the skills necessary to deal with the discovery or disclosure of substance use. These skills should include understanding effective discipline methods and dealing with any conflicts that might arise.
  • They should generally take account of gender differences and the role they might play in parents’ ways of communicating with young people and dealing with any substance use that may occur. The authors identified a particular need to work with fathers.
  • They should educate parents about the effects of parental substance use on their children, while also targeting young people whose parents were substance users with a school-based programme. (Perceptions of the effects of parental substance use on their children were divided; in some cases, it was perceived to have a protective effect, while in others it increased the risk of use.)

The authors concluded that parenting programmes have a role to play in supporting families to develop the skills necessary to protect their young people from harm associated with substance use. 

1              McLaughlin A, Campbell A and McColgan M (2016) Adolescent substance use in the context of the family: a qualitative study of young people’s views on parent‒child attachments, parenting style and parental substance use. Substance Use & Misuse, (51) 14: 1846‒1855.

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