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An Evanston Township High School Drug Use and Perception survey indicates most ETHS parents set clear non-use rules about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs for their children. This is exciting news, as research shows that establishing clear rules and consequences is one of the most important factors in reducing underage substance use.

Another important factor is correcting youths’ misperceptions about the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. If teens perceive that everyone is using alcohol, they will be more likely to use it.

To reduce underage substance use at ETHS, the Evanston Substance Abuse Prevention Council (ESAPC) and ETHS administer the Drug Use and Perception survey to ETHS staff, students and parents. The survey collects information on student and parental attitudes about youth cigarette, alcohol and marijuana use. While it also looks at how often ETHS staff and parents talk to youth about the risks of substance use, the survey’s central information pertains to student, staff and parental perceptions of how often ETHS students are using such drugs. The ETHS social norms campaign presents the survey data to the community to correct misperceptions about use among ETHS youth. Parents and staff are key to balancing youth perceptions and ensuring that teens have the right information to make informed decisions.

What did ETHS parents tell us?

Of the 257 parents surveyed during ETHS parent-teacher conferences this spring:

• 91% disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement: It is okay for parents to give alcohol to their own children as long as the parents are there to supervise.

• During the past school year, 77% of parents spoke with their children three times or more about the risks of alcohol use; 57% of parents spoke with their children three times or more about the risks of tobacco use; and 59% of parents spoke with their children three times or more about the risks of marijuana use.

• ETHS parents overestimate student use as seen in the chart below.

Information students gave that
parents should know:

• Of the students who drank alcohol, 13% got it at home with parents’ permission; 23% got it in homes without the friends’ parents’ permission; and 42% got it from a friend who was over 21.

• Reasons why students choose not to drink alcohol: legal consequences (69%); not wanting to get in trouble with their parents (68%); not wanting to jeopardize their future plans (64%); and not wanting to disappoint their parents (62%).

• When asked on the survey, 97% of students stated they were honest on the survey, while 60% thought most students did not answer honestly.

What can parents do to reduce underage substance use?

Parents have a key role in the decisions their child makes. The middle- and high-school years are a time when youth need help making healthy choices about alcohol and other drugs. By the age of 13 most have already been offered alcohol or other drugs. It is surprising how much teens will open up if they feel comfortable doing so. Two easy ways to promote openness are to show interest and discuss a child’s daily ups and downs and to let teens know all the things their parents find wonderful about them. Positive reinforcement can go a long way in preventing drug use among teens, and offering it on a regular basis will create a trusting relationship. More tips can be found at

Research shows that kids are less likely to use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs if their parents have established a pattern of setting clear rules and consequences for breaking those rules (Guo, Hawkins, Hill, and Abbott, 2001). Kids who are not regularly monitored by their parents are four times more likely to use drugs (Metzler, Rusby & Biglan, 1999). Before setting rules and consequences, discuss them with a spouse so both parents are on the same page. Consistency will allow a child to learn what their boundaries are and what behavior is acceptable.

Though parents are a huge influence in youths’ decisions, peers also play a big part. Research has found that peer norms are a powerful predictor of behavior among high school youth. For this reason it is important for them to have an accurate perception of drug use in their environment. Parents can help teens understand that many among them make healthy choices and choose not to use alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.