Originally Released: May, 1999
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Parents who supervise their adolescents in "a warm but demanding" way can reduce their children's risk of becoming sexually active or getting involved with alcohol and drugs, according to a study by three researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Researchers Xiaoming Li, Ph.D.; Bonita Stanton, M.D.; and Susan Feigelman, M.D., found a strong association between how African-American youths in Baltimore viewed the degree of their parents' supervision of them and how likely they were to have had sexual intercourse, engage in unprotected sex, sell drugs, use alcohol or smoke marijuana.
"We can emphatically say that parenting makes a difference at the adolescent stage," says Dr. Feigelman. "The data suggest that what a lot of parents and church groups would like to believe is true -- you should be talking to your kids. But it's also important to talk in their terms."
Results of the four-year study involving nearly 400 youths were presented at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in San Francisco on May 3.
"These data provide clear evidence of the importance of parental monitoring on the reduction of health risk behaviors in a large cohort of youth, both at a specific moment in a child's history and across time," Dr. Li says.
In the study, 383 African-Americans from age 9 to 15 were recruited from nine recreation centers serving three public housing communities. They were asked questions at regular intervals over a four-year period about their own behaviors and how they perceived their parents' or guardians' degree of supervision over them. The result was that as parental monitoring increased, the targeted risk behaviors went down, in both the short and long term, the report said.
Previous studies indicate that "especially among Caucasian, middle class families, but essentially across all ethnic groups, parenting styles in which the parent is warm but demanding are the most likely to yield high achievement and low risk involvement," the report says.
According to Dr. Stanton, "This study provides the most striking data regarding the long-term importance of parental monitoring and risk behavior among urban, low-income African American children and adolescents to date."
The term "parental monitoring" includes communication between child and parent (or guardian) and supervision of children in terms of knowing where they are, what they are doing and who their friends are. The research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research and the National Institutes of Health.
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