Survey shows shared views on underage drinking
By Chris Rooney Marinscope contributor
If you think you’re the only parent taking a hard stance against letting your kid consume alcohol and that everyone else is too permissive, a new study reveals that you’re not alone — most parents actually share similar values.
The Marin Prevention Network (MPN), a coalition curbing youth substance use, released the results of its second Parent Norm Survey, revealing that, when it comes to teens and drinking, Marin parents are overwhelmingly on the same page — even though they think the opposite is true.
“It is quite interesting that there is a perceived social norm that other parents are less concerned and allow more risky behavior than they do,” said Public Health Division Director Kathy Koblick, MPH. “This is important because perceived social norms of other parents could predict parents loosening their grip on concern and watchfulness regarding their children’s alcohol and drug use.”
Linda Henn, a Larkspur parent involved with the Twin Cities Coalition for Healthy Youth, said, “Our survey results show that, collectively, we care deeply about this issue, and that we set rules for our households to deal with this. But we don’t realize that most other parents are doing this as well — we think the opposite is true. It’s time to build our community based on our shared values — and not remain quiet based on perceived differences.”
MPN launched the first Parent Norms Survey in 2014 to monitor parent attitudes about substance use among teens. More than 1,446 high school and 1,390 middle school parents responded to a second online survey, offered last November.
Similar to the 2014 results, parents responded similarly when it came to teens and drinking — but they don’t realize it. The vast majority of respondents with high school students are extremely concerned about binge drinking — at a rate of 88 percent. Yet just 54 percent of those respondents thought other parents were extremely concerned.
Likewise, 93 percent of respondents with middle school and 80 percent with high school students do not allow their children to drink in their homes. But 61 percent of respondents with middle schoolers and 77 percent of respondents with high schoolers thought most other parents allow children to drink occasionally in their own homes.
“We know that social norms are among the best predictors of substance use,” said Koblick. “Survey results tell us that parents are concerned and hold the line with their kids when it comes to alcohol and drug use. Survey results tell us that parents do not feel that other parents are as concerned as they are and that other parents do not hold as hard a line as they do. The risk of this perceived social norm of other parents is that parents will loosen their own grip on concern, rules and watchfulness as they feel they are not in the majority with their beliefs and actions.”
Parent beliefs about marijuana and prescription drug use show similar patterns: 67 percent of respondents are very concerned about marijuana use, but only 18 percent think other parents are very concerned. Also, 94 percent of respondents are very concerned about prescription drug use, but only 58 percent think other parents are very concerned.
“It is important that parents understand that other parents are as concerned and watchful as they are — that they are not alone — that parents are united in their concern and oversight of their children regarding alcohol and drug use [and] that parents do not feel in the minority with this belief,” said Koblick.
Based on California Healthy Kids Survey, Koblick stated that kids see parents as their biggest influencers on substance use. “So, even though parents may feel powerless [or] helpless, they are truly the most influential people in their children’s lives,” she said. “When we add that together with what we’ve learned from the Parent Norms Survey — that most parents are on the same page when it comes to restricting access — that’s a powerful collective force for change.”
When compared to the results of the bi-annual California Healthy Kids Survey, which surveys students, the Parent Norm Survey also shows a gap between what parents think is happening with their kids and what is actually happening. For instance, 86 percent of high school parents did not think their child had used alcohol in the past 30 days, while 20 percent of ninth-graders and 40 percent of eleventh-graders reported using alcohol in the last 30 days.
“There is a great opportunity here to build a stronger community network of parents,” said Matt Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer, in an MPN statement. “Awareness of these issues are high, and parents are more united than they realize in their desire to keep their kids from drinking and using substances. The community coalitions we have in place can help parents come together and be a strong force for change.”
The Parent Norm Survey showed significant increase in the knowledge of parents who are aware of Marin’s social host ordinances — 64 percent of respondents with high school students were aware of the social host ordinance, an increase of more than 10 percent over the 2014 survey results.
MPN is comprised of law enforcement and public health officials, including Novato Blue Ribbon Coalition, San Rafael ACT, Alcohol Justice, Mill Valley Aware, Ross Valley Healthy Community Collaborative, Twin Cities Coalition for Healthy Youth, West Marin Coalition for Healthy Kids, Be the Influence, Marin County Youth Commission, RxSafe Marin, SmokeFreeMarin, Marin Friday Night Live Network and Youth Leadership Institute.
For information or to join a local coalition, visit marinpreventionnetwork.org.