Sue Scheff: Teen Substance Abuse and Sibling Influence

Teen substance abuse is an issue many parents deal with, however are they aware of how it is effecting the other children in their family?  Is your at risk teen influencing their siblings?  Peer pressure, whether at home or at school, can lead to trouble and as a parent, we need to be aware of the warning signs and open up those lines of communications.  Is your oldest child a good model for the younger ones?  Is a younger one trying drugs and is your older one encouraging or discouraging them?  Stop, listen, read and learn. Be an educated parent.


Source: Connect with Kids

Sibling Influence

“I don’t want [my sister] to be mad at me, and I don’t want her to be disappointed in me.”

– Laura, 14 years old

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America says parents are the “anti-drug,” but there is another anti-drug: siblings. When it comes to making risky decisions an older sibling can play a crucial role too.

Teens experience many forms of stress, including the pressure to experiment with drugs and alcohol, on a regular basis.

Laura, 14, says she has been in situations where drugs and alcohol were present.

“It’s just there. So you can either choose to get some or just stay away,” she says.

For years, Laura and her older sister Amanda, 17, have had conversations with their parents about the importance of staying drug free.

“They just always talk to us about how it’s not good, that it’s bad, so don’t do it,” Laura says.

But part of what keeps Laura on the straight and narrow is a desire to please her older sister.

“I don’t want her to be mad at me, and I don’t want her to be disappointed in me. [W]e’ll always get along, but if she’s disappointed in me, maybe our relationship could grow apart,” she says.

When it comes to making decisions many kids will listen to their older brother or sister- good or bad.

In fact, researchers at the University of California-David found that teens are more likely to drink, use drugs, and have unprotected sex if they have a brother or sister who take those same risks.

“Adolescence is a time of deciding who you are and what you’re about. You decide that based on modeling. So the role of the older sibling as a modeling influence – somebody that the younger kid is gonna follow – is enormously important.” explains Dr. Robert Perez, a clinical psychologist.

Still, parents play the most important role in the prevention of childhood substance abuse. Experts say parents need to make it clear how they feel about using drugs. It’s also important that they start the conversation early and revisit the issue often.

The advice from Amanda and Laura’s mother: “Talk to your kids, have dinner with your kids. I think that’s the most important thing,” Mary Lou Waide says.


And it seems the Waides’ message about drugs and alcohol has stuck with their daughters.

“We don’t want to disappoint them,” Amanda says. “We know what we can and can’t do, and we know that if we do anything we’re gonna pay the consequences.”

Previous studies have shown that parents can influence their children to make positive decisions regarding drug use. Research conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University shows that siblings also play an important role in keeping children drug free.

The survey of 1,000 teens aged 12 to 17 (half boys and half girls) focused on whether a siblings’ negative attitude toward drugs would deter a child from trying drugs, alcohol or cigarettes. The study found that teens who believed their older sibling would disapprove or would be “very angry” to find out they were using marijuana were less likely to use drugs or alcohol. Researchers also found that parents may underestimate their role in their children’s decisions to use drugs. In fact, more than one-third of the surveyed parents said they believe drug use is a fact of life in schools and that they are powerless to stop it.

Despite these findings, CASA says that many families still have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to discussing drug abuse. Nearly half of the surveyed teens said that their parents never talked to them about the dangers of drug use.

Tips for Parents

It is important that family members feel as though they can talk to each other about tough issues, such as drug use. Part of this early, open communication includes being a good listener. Whether you’re a parent or an older sibling, consider these listening techniques provided by the American Council for Drug Education (ACDE):

  • Give your child an opportunity to talk. Stop talking and give your child sufficient time to complete his or her thoughts and process what has been said.
  • Demonstrate interest by asking appropriate questions. Questions can help you clarify your child’s thoughts and suggestions. Be sure that you are interpreting what has been said correctly.
  • Listen to the complete message. Listen to the total message before forming a response.
  • Encourage your child to talk. Use door-opening statements (“You seem distracted today” or “Tell me what is going on”) that invite a response.
  • Focus on content, not delivery. Avoid being distracted by your child’s poor grammar or manners. It is what is being said that is important.
  • Listen for main ideas. Try to pick out the central theme of the conversation.
  • Deal effectively with emotionally charged language. Be aware of words or phrases that produce anxiety and trigger emotions.
  • Identify areas of common experience and agreement. Note similar experiences of your own or offer a shared point of view to communicate acceptance and understanding.
  • Deal effectively with whatever blocks you from listening. Be aware of personal blocks that may prevent you from hearing what your child is saying.

Substance abuse can be an overwhelming issue with which to deal, but it doesn’t have to be. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America offers the following strategies to put into practice so that your child can reap the rewards of a healthy, drug-free life:

  • Be your child’s greatest fan. Compliment him or her on all of his or her efforts, strength of character and individuality.
  • Involve your child in adult-supervised after-school activities. Ask him or her what types of activities he or she is interested in and contact the school principal or guidance counselor to find out what activities are available. Sometimes it takes a bit of experimenting to find out which activities your child is best suited for, but it’s worth the effort – feeling competent makes children much less likely to use drugs.
  • Help your child develop tools he can use to get out of alcohol- or drug-related situations. Let him or her know he or she can use you as an excuse: “My mom would kill me if I smoked marijuana!”
  • Get to know your child’s friends and their parents. Set appointments for yourself to call them and check-in to make sure they share your views on alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Steer your child away from any friends who use drugs.
  • Call teens’ parents if their home is to be used for a party. Make sure that the party will be alcohol-free and supervised by adults.
  • Set curfews and enforce them. Let your child know the consequences of breaking curfew.
  • Set a no-use rule for alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
  • Sit down for dinner with your child at least once a week. Use the time to talk – don’t eat in front of the television.
  • Get – and stay – involved in your child’s life.


  • American Council for Drug Education
  • National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse
  • Partnership for a Drug-Free America
  • Office of National Drug Control Policy

Also read on Examiner about Stop Medicine Abuse and Inhalant Use.