Are parents in the US and Canada overly optimistic about their children’s risks of addictive substance use?
Parental Optimism and Perceived Control over Children’s Initiation of Tobacco, Cannabis, and Opioid Use
Parents, and especially parental attitudes and behaviors on addictive substances during their children’s childhood and adolescence, can have a major influence on the youth’s consumption of these substances. As a result, improving understanding of parental perceptions surrounding this topic represents an important step towards enhancing public health prevention of substance use and related disorders in children and adolescents.
Towards this end, a group of pediatricians in the US and Canada conducted a survey to determine parents’ perceived likelihood of their children initiating tobacco, cannabis, and opioid use. The researchers found that the majority of participants have high levels of optimism that their children would not utilize those addictive substances. In reality, however, the growing brain is biologically primed to seek rewarding sensations such as those brought about by tobacco, cannabis, or opioid; in other words, teenagers are very vulnerable to initiating substance use and developing substance use disorders. Consequently, the optimistic attitudes found in most participants suggested that many parents underestimate their children’s risk of initiating substance use before the age of 18. These same parents, in turn, likely spend less time and effort preventing such behaviors.
This survey offers valuable insights that can help guide strategy to prevent substance use during childhood and adolescence. In particular, improving parental awareness of the actual risks and ability to communicate those risks with their children can serve as major starting points.