As scientists learn more about the genetic roots of our behavior, there's a tendency to believe a kid's destiny is written in his genes. But parents, take heart: A recent study suggest that by maintaining an involved and supportive presence in their kids' lives, parents can curb adolescent drug use-even among those kids with a genetic predisposition for it.
In the study, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers from the University of Georgia surveyed 298 African-American families from rural Georgia once a year for four years, interviewing one 11-year-old child and one parent within each family. After being assured that their responses would remain confidential, the youth answered questions on a computer about their past year's substance use, while the parent provided details of their parenting practices. The researchers also analyzed a sample of the youth's saliva, looking for a gene known as 5-HTTLPR, associated with higher rates of substance abuse in adults. The gene is also associated with lower self-control and more severe reactions (including symptoms of depression) to adversity among adolescents-behaviors that also tend to lead to higher substance abuse.
The results of the study showed that parents who more frequently practiced what the researchers call "involved-supportive parenting," meaning that they gave their kids more emotional support, were more involved in their child's life, and communicated better with them, had kids who were less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, even when those kids' genes put them at greater genetic risk. Compared with those who received involved-supportive parenting, children with the gene who didn't receive this kind of parenting showed a threefold increase in their substance use across adolescence.
Past studies from the same researchers have shown that involved-supportive parenting also improves children's ability to control their behavior, boosts their academic performance, and improves their ability to get along with others
The authors say this line of research suggests that such a parenting style might help develop an adolescent's ability to monitor and adapt their emotions and behaviors to different situations, especially situations in which they might be tempted to use drugs or alcohol.