Teens with nosy parents less likely to get into trouble

Baltimore study links closer supervision to reduction in risky activity

May 04, 1999|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,SUN STAFF

A new study of adolescents in poor Baltimore neighborhoods lends scientific weight to the common-sense notion that a good parent is a pain in the neck.

A team of researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in a study released yesterday, found that youths who said they were closely supervised by a parent were only about half as likely to use marijuana or alcohol, sell drugs or have unprotected sex.

"This gives parents renewed hope and a renewed sense of responsibility," said Dr. Bonita F. Stanton, one of the study's authors.

"We don't get off the hook when they turn 13."

An earlier University of Pennsylvania study, using data from Stanton and her colleagues, also found a lower incidence of violence among Baltimore adolescents who were closely supervised.

"I think the message is: parents matter," says Dr. Susan Feigelman of the University of Maryland, a co-author of the study, who presented the findings yesterday at a meeting in San Francisco.

"If parents make a difference in this population, they probably make a difference in the suburbs, too."

The University of Maryland study followed 383 African-American youths, ages 9 to 15, over a period of four years starting in 1993. All lived in or around six public housing projects.

At city recreation centers, study participants were asked: Whether their parents knew where they were after school,

Whether they were expected to call to say where they were going and who they were going with,

Whether their parents knew where they were at night, and

Whether they discussed those plans with their parents.

In the first six months of the study, 1 percent of the children who were closely monitored said they had sold drugs, compared with 10 percent of the children with little supervision.

Eighteen months later, 5 percent of the youths who were closely monitored were dealing drugs, compared with 12 percent of those with little supervision.

Drug and alcohol use and unprotected sex followed a similar pattern.

Researchers attributed the rise in these "risky" behaviors in both groups to peer pressures.

Stanton says the adolescents in the study were like those everywhere -- convinced that their parents were stodgier than those of their friends.

"Kids were assuring their parents that they were the only parents who were still hovering over them," she says.

But for parents, Stanton says, one of the important lessons of the study is that "if you're going to err in one direction, it's probably better to err in the direction of being over-vigilant."

Stanton says she was encouraged to discover that single parents can still exert a powerful influence over the behavior of their children.

About 80 percent of the children studied had only one parent -- in most cases, the mother.

"Parents need not despair that, just because they're in this alone, they can't be effective," she says.

Xiamoning Li, also of the University of Maryland, was a co-author of the study.

Support for the research came from the National Institute of Mental Health, the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research and the National Institutes of Health.

Pub Date: 5/04/99

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