Parents, More Than Schools, Influence Alcohol, Marijuana Use

By Michele Molnar — December 26, 2012 2 min read
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Parental involvement is more important than the school environment in preventing or limiting alcohol and marijuana use by children, according to new research from North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University, and Pennsylvania State University.

“Parents play an important role in shaping the decisions their children make when it comes to alcohol and marijuana,” Dr. Toby Parcel, a professor of sociology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work, said in a release from NC State. “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.”

Researchers evaluated data from a nationally representative study of more than 10,000 students, along with their parents, teachers and school administrators. The research team examined how “family social capital” and “school social capital” affected the likelihood and/or frequency of marijuana use and alcohol use by children.

By “family social capital,” they mean 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, they 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 doctoral student at Penn State. Its original publication date was Nov. 8.

The researchers based their findings on data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988. In their abstract, they explain 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.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.