Telling Kids About Past Drug Use Is Not A Good Idea, Study Says

Should Parents Tell Kids About Their Own Past, Umm, Indiscretions?

Alright, so maybe you smoked a bit of weed in high school or college. Perhaps you even dabbled with something stronger. You want to tell your kids about it so that they can learn from your mistakes. Good idea? According to a new study, no.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign surveyed 561 middle school students on talks they had had with their parents about drinking, smoking and marijuana. They found that the kids were less likely to think drugs were bad if their parents had shared stories of past substance use with them. Kids whose parents simply drove home an anti-drug message without revealing their own indiscretions were more likely to avoid them.

So does this mean you should blatantly lie to your kids?

"We are not recommending that parents lie to their early adolescent children about their own past drug use," the study’s lead author Jennifer Kam, an assistant professor of communication, told Huff/Post50. "Instead, we are suggesting that parents should focus on talking to their kids about the negative consequences of drug use, how to avoid offers, family rules against use, that they disapprove of use, and others who have gotten in trouble from using.

"Parents may not want to voluntarily share their past drug use with their early adolescent children, but we are not suggesting that they outright lie to their kids," she said, adding that more research needs to be done.

Even so, Kam's study found that kids who reported that their parents talked about the negative consequences, or regret, over their own past substance use were actually less likely to report anti-substance-use perceptions. This means, Kam said, that sharing past stories -- even when there's a lesson involved -- may reap unintended results for early adolescent children.

Kam said that parents who admit they've used drugs may be unintentionally undermining the negative point they're seeking to make.

"We suspect that even though parents may convey anti-substance use messages by emphasizing the regret and negative consequences associated with their decision to use, they still have to reveal that they used substances at some point in their lives," she told Huff/Post50. "Knowing that their parents tried substances may actually normalize this behavior for youth and make it seem okay, thereby making youth think their parents wouldn't really disapprove of them using substances and thinking that more kids around them use.

"Despite their intentions to convey anti-substance-use messages, parent's discussion of their prior use may in some ways downplay the parents' emphasis on the negative consequences of using substances," she added.

The study's findings, published in the journal Human Communication Research, was based on surveys of 253 Hispanic and 308 white students from the sixth through the eighth grades about conversations they'd had with their parents. The researchers opted to study these ethnic groups because they have the highest rates of alcohol and marijuana use in the eighth grade. The kids were asked to complete wide-ranging surveys that included questions about their attitudes toward drugs, whether they used drugs, and what kinds of messages their parents were giving them.

"Parents may want to reconsider whether they should talk to their kids about times when they used substances in the past and not volunteer such information, Kam said. "Of course, it is important to remember this study is one of the first to examine the associations between parents' references to their own past substance use and their adolescent children's subsequent perceptions and behaviors."

But despite the findings many other experts in recent years have offered a contrary viewpoint, saying parents should reveal their previous substance use to their kids. They assert that those who don't share may not appear to have the credibility needed to tell children to stay away from drugs and alcohol.

Some parents agree that sharing is preferable to withholding information.

"I figure they are going to find out anyway so why not be open and honest?" said Mary Scher, a New Jersey mother of three. "I did some things I'm not exactly proud of when I was younger and I don't have a problem telling my kids about it. I think they can learn from my mistakes."

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