To Be a Teen’s Parent Is to Worry, If Not Always About the Right Things

Last month in these pages, we discussed a study showing that teenagers are largely a well-adjusted bunch. Other polls in recent years have made the same point. This suggests a possible corollary: Are parents of teens not the nervous wrecks that popular stereotype depicts them to be? Actually, the story is mixed, to judge from a poll by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

The survey notes a disconnect between parental fears and teenagers’ own sense of peril. Drugs are a prime example. Relatively few teens say they use drugs. Most say they don’t even know other teens who do so. On that score, while 51 percent of parents cited “peer pressure” as the foremost difficulty confronting their kids, these peers sound pretty benign. Anyhow, just 3 percent of teens said it’s “very likely” they’ll try drugs in the future; 8 percent said it’s “somewhat likely.” Nonetheless, 13 percent of parents are “very concerned” and 35 percent “somewhat concerned” that their own teens will try illegal drugs at some point. This anxiety partly reflects a sense that matters are beyond their control. Asked whether it’s true that mothers and fathers have “little influence” over a teenager’s decision to use drugs, smoke or drink, a significant minority of parents agreed strongly (7 percent) or somewhat (22 percent).

If parents often overestimate their teenagers’ susceptibility to drugs, they underestimate the extent to which kids are stressed about school. While 4 percent of parents cited education as the “most important problem” teenagers face, 20 percent of the teens cited education as their main challenge. In other respects, though, parents are surprisingly well-informed about the details of their offspring’s lives. Money is a case in point. One section of the survey asked teens how much money they have to spend in a typical week on things they want. Six percent said they have none; 15 percent, $1-10; 19 percent, $11-15; 30 percent, $15-30; and 24 percent, more than $30. When parents were asked how much their kids have to spend, the answers tracked closely with the teens’ responses. And similar numbers (53 percent of kids, 59 percent of parent) agreed that parents are the main source of these funds.

If you wonder whether teenagers drive their parents to drink, it appears they do not. Asked how often their fathers drink alcoholic beverages, 43 percent of teens said “never,” while 25 percent classified the old man as an “occasional drinker.” Just 8 percent said their dads toss back more than one drink per day. The kids rated their mothers as even more abstemious. As for the teenagers themselves, 62 percent said they never drink; a mere 4 percent do so as often as once a week.