Prudent parents know their teenagers’ friends have a big impact on their children’s lives, but monitoring the conduct of the parents of those friends is a minefield that many are unable, or unwilling, to tread. Yet the failure to vet the parents of their teens’ friends can lead to trouble and sometimes tragedy, as new U.S. research confirms.
Findings published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that the good intentions of protective parents—those who monitor their adolescents’ whereabouts and activities—are often erased if their children’s peers have parents who condone, ignore or are oblivious to substance abuse. Researchers at Penn State University studied the self-reported parenting styles of 9,417 Grade 9 students, and those of their circle of friends. A year later the students were asked about their use of alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana. “If you belong to a friendship group whose parents are inconsistent [in discipline], and your parents are consistent, you’re still more likely to use alcohol,” said researcher Michael J. Cleveland. “The differences here are due to your friends’ parents, not yours.”
This March, one such story played out in B.C. Supreme Court. Shannon Raymond, 16, of Maple Ridge, drank alcohol and took an ecstasy pill before arriving at a friend’s house party. She passed out and was left unconscious overnight before her friend’s mother finally called an ambulance at 6 a.m. She was dead when paramedics arrived. The mother who hosted the party was charged with failing to provide the necessities of life, but was found not guilty. In 2009, 15-year-old Tamara Aller froze to death in a Dauphin, Man., parking lot after leaving a friend’s party. Her friend’s father drove the intoxicated teen partway home. She didn’t make it the rest of the way in -37° C temperatures. The host parents pleaded guilty last November to allowing drunkenness. The penalty: a $4,500 fine.
Neither verdict satisfied the families of the dead teens. “There are morals and ethics we’re talking about,” said Shannon’s mother Julie Raymond. “She would still be alive if someone had done the right thing.”
The heartening news is that parenting, done right, can also have a positive influence on a child’s friends, said Cleveland. “The notion of ‘it takes a village’ can actually result in better outcomes for adolescents.”