December 9, 2005


Importance of parents

A couple articles in Catholic periodicals lately have shown the importance of parents when it comes to teenagers.

One of them was in this periodical, in our Nov. 18 issue. A Catholic News Service article reported on the results of a study of youth and religion that showed that Catholic teens lag behind their Protestant counterparts on many measures of religious belief, experiences and activities. The evident cause of this disparity, according to the analysis by sociologist Christian Smith, was that “the relative religious laxity of most U.S. Catholic teenagers significantly reflects the relative religious laxity of their parents.”

The other article was about teens’ smoking, drinking and drug use. It was written by Joseph A. Califano Jr., chairman and president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, and was published in the Oct. 31 issue of America magazine. Califano is adamant that the main thing that will motivate teens to stay drug-free is their perception of how their parents will react to their smoking, drinking and drug use.

The first article is an indictment of Catholic parents, but it shouldn’t be very surprising. If parents are lax about their religious beliefs and practices, how can they expect anything more from their children? Smith said in his analysis of the study, “U.S. Catholic parents of teenagers are much less likely than all of their Protestant counterparts to participate in organized activities at church other than regular worship services.”

That hardly comes as a surprise to parishes that try to get Catholics to participate in Bible study, adult religious education programs or Sunday morning talks. Even those who attend Mass regularly seem to feel that’s enough religious participation. Naturally, their teenage children quickly get the idea that religion isn’t important.

But even those parents should want to keep their children away from cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. We believe that Califano’s message to parents is so important that we want it to reach more than America’s 47,000 subscribers. Here is some of what he reported as a result of CASA’s 10th annual survey of 12- to 17-year-olds:

This year, 10.6 million high schoolers, almost two-thirds, and 2.4 million middle schoolers, more than a quarter, are attending schools where drugs are used, kept or sold. Teens in these schools are three times likelier to try marijuana and get drunk in a typical month than teens who attend drug-free schools. Students at high schools with drugs estimate that 44 percent of their schoolmates regularly use illegal drugs.

Morality and parental attitude trump illegality as deterrents to smoking, drinking and drug use. Teens whose parents would be “a little upset or not upset” if they smoked or drank are much likelier to smoke or drink than those whose parents would be “extremely upset.” Teens whose parents would not be “extremely upset” are six times likelier to try marijuana than those whose parents would be.

Califano wrote, “The point is that a child’s sense of morality, which most 12- to 17-year-olds acquire from parents, and a clear appreciation of parental disapproval are far more powerful incentives to stay drug-free” than the fact that drugs are illegal.

It’s not just a matter of disapproval though. CASA’s study also found that teens who see three or more R-rated movies in a typical month are seven times likelier to smoke cigarettes, six times likelier to try marijuana, and five times likelier to drink alcohol than those who do not watch R-rated movies.

On the other hand, teens that would go to either or both of their parents with a serious problem are at half the risk of teens who would seek out another adult. And there’s this finding that echoes that other study: Teens who attend weekly religious services—or who say that religion is an important part of their lives—are at half the risk of smoking, drinking or using drugs as those who do not attend such services. Califano wrote, “And it is unlikely in this nation that 12- to 17-year-olds go to church each week without their parents.”

The message is clear: Parents are important when it comes to teen behavior. Far too many parents are neglecting their responsibilities, especially, according to that first study, Catholic parents.

— John F. Fink


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