Are Parents Aware of Their Teens’ Substance Use?

February 02, 2021

Youth substance use is a top concern among Chicago parents for good reason. Data from the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System by the CDC found that more than one-quarter of Chicago public high school students said they currently drank alcohol and a slightly lower number said they used marijuana.

This raises a key question: how many parents believe they would know if their teens were using alcohol or drugs and putting themselves or others in danger?

According to new survey results from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, about two-thirds of parents in the survey thought they would know if their child drank and drove. Slightly over half of parents thought they would know if their teen went to a party where alcohol was served to minors, or rode in a car driven by a teen who was under the influence. In contrast, less than half of 10th graders responding to the 2018 Illinois Youth Survey said they thought their parents would know if they engaged in these risky activities.

“Parents may be overconfident about how well they know their teens’ behavior about drinking and drug use,” says Matthew Davis, MD, MAPP, Chair of the Department of Medicine at Lurie Children’s, Executive Vice-President and Chief Community Health Transformation Officer at the Patrick M. Magoon Institute for Healthy Communities at Lurie Children’s, and Chair of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “And even so, half of parents don’t think they would know if their teen rode in a car with a peer under the influence. This is a situation that calls for more open communication between parents and teens, and setting clearer expectations earlier in childhood by parents.”

Of note, most parents said that in the last year they had talked with their children about not using marijuana and alcohol, and not riding in a vehicle with an intoxicated driver. However, almost half of parents indicated they never discuss alcohol and drug rules with parents of their child’s friends.

“When parents in different families agree about preventing alcohol and drug use by their teens, they can help ensure safer environments in homes,” says Maria Rahmandar, MD, Medical Director of Lurie Children’s Substance Use & Prevention Program. “By setting consistent expectations and cautions about drug use, parents can help each other keep their kids safer as a group.”

Survey findings are based on data from a recently launched survey project called the Voices of Child Health in Chicago Parent Panel Survey. The survey is conducted exclusively by NORC at the University of Chicago for Lurie Children’s and is administered to Chicago parents three times each year via internet and telephone surveys. The sample consists of 1,642 Chicago parents from all 77 community areas in Chicago and is weighted to be representative of households with children across the city. Findings in this report were drawn from a subset of 921 parents who had at least one child in the household 11 years or older.

Population-focused child health research at Lurie Children’s is conducted through the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Research, Outcomes, and Evaluation Center at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of new knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in U.S.News & World Report and is the pediatric training affiliate for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 221,000 children from 47 states and 30 countries.

The Substance Use and Prevention Program (SUPP) at Lurie Children's provides comprehensive and holistic care for patients and families. As a specialty program within The Potocsnak Family Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, SUPP utilizes multidisciplinary team to address the complex needs of those experiencing substance use disorders. We provide that every adolescent that comes through our program with current and evidence-based care for addiction treatment and prevention.