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Study: Parents Key to Preventing Alcohol, Marijuana Use by Kids

New research from North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University and the Pennsylvania State University finds that parental involvement is more important than the school environment when it comes to preventing or limiting alcohol and marijuana use by children.

“Parents play an important role in shaping the decisions their children make when it comes to alcohol and marijuana,” says Dr. Toby Parcel, a professor of sociology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. “To be clear, school programs that address alcohol and marijuana use are definitely valuable, but the bonds parents form with their children are more important. Ideally, we can have both.”

The researchers evaluated data from a nationally representative study that collected information from more than 10,000 students, as well as their parents, teachers and school administrators.

Specifically, the researchers looked at how “family social capital” and “school social capital” affected the likelihood and/or frequency of marijuana use and alcohol use by children. Family social capital can essentially be described as the bonds between parents and children, such as trust, open lines of communication and active engagement in a child’s life. School social capital captures a school’s ability to serve as a positive environment for learning, including measures such as student involvement in extracurricular activities, teacher morale and the ability of teachers to address the needs of individual students.

The researchers evaluated marijuana use and alcohol use separately. In both cases, researchers found that students with high levels of family social capital and low levels of school social capital were less likely to have used marijuana or alcohol – or to have used those substances less frequently – than students with high levels of school social capital but low family social capital.

The paper, “Does Capital at Home Matter More than Capital at School? The Case of Adolescent Alcohol and Marijuana Use,” is published online in the Journal of Drug Issues. The paper was co-authored by Dr. Mikaela Dufur of BYU and Benjamin McKune, a Ph.D. student at Penn State.


Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“Does Capital at Home Matter More than Capital at School? The Case of Adolescent Alcohol and Marijuana Use”

Authors: Mikaela J. Dufur, Brigham Young University; Toby L. Parcel, North Carolina State University; Benjamin A. McKune, Pennsylvania State University

Published: online, Journal of Drug Issues

Abstract: Following Coleman’s analysis of social capital, the norms that discourage adolescent substance use should be more successfully transmitted to young people who enjoy greater stores of social capital. We hypothesize that youth derive social capital from their families and from their schools, and test whether higher levels of capital from each context are influential in resisting substance use and abuse. Using data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988, we show that social capital in the family is helpful in protecting adolescents from using alcohol and marijuana, whereas social capital built at school has essentially no effect on the same outcomes. We discuss the implications of these findings for future research on social capital as well as for policy interventions using schools as sites to discourage adolescent drug use.