Youths' marijuana use still going up after long decline, study says Parents called ignorant of use by their children

February 20, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The use of marijuana by adolescents continues to bound back after years of decline, and parents, many of whom once tried drugs themselves, may not have a clue that their own children are experimenting too, according to a nationwide survey scheduled for release today.

The survey, commissioned by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, tracked attitudes toward drugs last year among 8,520 children and 822 parents across the United States.

"A profound reversal in adolescent drug trends is continuing," the survey found, with teen-agers more tolerant about marijuana and drugs in general.

The survey attributed this in part to a glamorization of drugs in pop music, movies and television shows and to an absence of national and community leadership in discouraging experimentation with drugs.

"Today's teens are less likely to consider drug use harmful and risky, more likely to believe that drug use is widespread and tolerated, and feel more pressure to try illegal drugs than teens did just two years ago," the survey reported.

But it also found that there was still resistance to some hard drugs like crack cocaine, and that so far, adolescent drug use was below the peak years of the late 1970s, although higher than the low point that was reached in 1992.

Parents also underestimate their children's encounters with drugs, the survey reported. Only 14 percent of the parents interviewed thought their children had experimented with marijuana, while 38 percent of the teen-agers said they had tried it. And 34 percent of the parents thought their children might have been offered drugs, while 52 percent of the teen-agers said they had.

Underscoring the lack of communication, 95 percent of the parents said they had discussed drugs with their children, but only 77 percent of the children reported such talks.

Three out of every four parents interviewed said they would be upset if their children tried drugs, even though 60 percent of the parents admitted they had used marijuana themselves at some time in their lives. Even so, 77 percent agreed that parents should forbid their children to use drugs at any time.

As evidence that greater parental involvement discourages drug use, the survey found that teen-agers were twice as likely to use marijuana in the past year if they had not learned about the risks from their parents.

But one-third of the parents said they felt they had little influence over whether their children would try marijuana. And 57 percent welcomed information that would persuade their children not to do so.

The study was conducted for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America by Audits & Surveys Worldwide, a market research company in New York. This survey, like one done two years ago, was based on confidential questionnaires in schools and homes across the country. Six earlier surveys done by another company had relied on encounters with young people in shopping malls.

The study confirms other reports that drug use by adolescents ** has been rising since 1992. An annual National Household Survey on Drug Abuse issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, reported that monthly use of illicit drugs by adolescents 12 to 17 years of age dropped from 1985 to 1992, from 3.2 million to 1.3 million, only to increase to 2.1 million in 1994.

Lloyd D. Johnston, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, described the resurgence as a case of "inter-generational forgetting," as adolescents who learned the dangers of drugs grew up and moved on. He said the resurgence did not extend to college students or young adults.

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