How do you keep at-risk teens off drugs and out of trouble? According to a new UGA study, family can make a difference.
“Parents think as children get older they need less from them, but the opposite is true,” said Gene Brody, director of the UGA Center for Family Research. “Caregivers need to understand it is appropriate for adolescents to spend time away from them, but they still need to know what they are doing and who they are spending their time with.”
For his recent study, which was published in the December issue of Pediatrics, Brody worked with 502 black families living in rural Georgia. His results show that participation in family-centered preventative intervention reduces conduct problems and substance use by more than 30 percent.
The prevention program was delivered to 16-year-old African Americans and their caregivers during five two-hour sessions. Caregivers received instruction on monitoring and control; guidance for dealing with racism, establishing norms and expectations; academic support; and cooperative problem solving. Adolescents were taught the importance of having and following family rules, strategies for coping with racism, the value of academic success and guidelines for forming and attaining academic and career goals. A second group of 250 teens and caregivers attended classes on exercise and nutrition but didn’t receive information about substance abuse and behavior issues.
Teens reported drug and alcohol use, symptoms of depression and behavioral problems both before the sessions began and 22 months later. Adolescents who attended the program reported 30 percent fewer conduct incidents. About half as many had drug and alcohol problems as the comparison group. They also had slightly fewer depression symptoms.