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Survey: Parents Afraid to Talk to Teens on Everyday Issues

Most parents have a hard time confronting their teenaged children about critical issues such as drug use. It's a trend increasingly seen today with parents who are afraid to talk to their teens.
( [email protected] ) Dec 16, 2006 12:56 PM EST

WASHINGTON – Most parents have a hard time confronting their teenaged children about critical issues such as drug use. It's a trend increasingly seen today with parents who are afraid to talk to their teens about everyday issues, a new poll has indicated.

A survey by VitalSmarts shows that 57 percent of parents admit to having some degree of difficulty in getting their teens involved in meaningful conversations about their concerns, such as who their friends are, how they dress and how school is going.

When it comes to drug use, parents remain more disconnected to their teens. Although parents are aware of the prevalence of drugs among teens, 52 percent admit to some degree of difficulty with conversations on drug use. Showing just how aware parents are, the survey reveals that nearly half believe their teen has friends who use drugs, and 56 percent believe their teen goes to parties where drugs are available.

“This poll reinforces a disconcerting trend we're seeing with parents today. Too many parents are avoiding tough conversations – or tough stances – because they're afraid of jeopardizing their relationship with their teen,” said John P. Walters, director of National Drug Control Policy, in the report. “Parents must follow through on their responsibilities and set clear rules against drug use.”

The parental silence also comes with other cultural trends such as MySpace accounts and sex.

Bob Waliszewski, director of Youth Culture at Focus on the Family, said in a former radio broadcast that parents are concerned of violating their children's privacy. But he stressed, "We as parents have to be involved."

Some parents have picked up strategies to monitor the teen such as keeping the fridge stocked with food so teens and their friends will be more likely to hang out at home under parental supervision (52 percent).

Research has shown that teens who are not regularly monitored by parents are four times more likely to use drugs. However, only 7 percent of parents check up on their teens, 21 percent ask questions to find out what's going on when it comes to drugs, and 29 percent go through their teens' belongings.

Even when under suspicion of their teen being exposed to drugs, 26 percent of parents did not speak up because they did not believe their teen would be influenced by drugs; 20 percent didn't because they had already discussed drugs with their teen in the past; 17 percent worried that their teen would deny there was a problem; and 13 percent felt that initiating the conversation would communicate a lack of trust to their teen.

“There isn't a more crucial parenting conversation than talking to a teenager about drugs. And most parents feel entirely inadequate, so they procrastinate it or speak up badly,” said Joseph Grenny, co-founder, VitalSmarts and author of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, in the research report. “Our research offers good news to millions of parents; we've found the difference between success and failure in these crucial conversations is a few powerful and learnable skills. Many parents feel like they have to choose between peace and parenting, but that's not true.”

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy urged parents to monitor their teen's activities and to talk to them.

Grenny offered some tips to parents to sharpen their conversation skills about drug use, such as state what you don't intend and do intend; confront your teen with facts about what's happening and not judgments; and make sure the dialogue is a two-way conversation.

The new study comes during National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month. President George W. Bush proclaimed December 2006 as a month to encourage all Americans to make responsible decisions and to help prevent drunk and drugged driving.

VitalSmarts specializes in corporate training and organizational performance, with award-winning training products based on more than 25 years of ongoing research.