By Christopher S. Wren
New York Times News Service
The use of marijuana by adolescents continues to rebound after years of decline. And parents, many who tried drugs themselves, may not have a clue that their children are experimenting, according to a nationwide survey scheduled for release Tuesday.
The survey, commissioned by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, tracked attitudes toward drugs last year among 8,520 children and 822 parents across the United States.
"A profound reversal in adolescent drug trends is continuing," the survey found, with teen-agers more tolerant about marijuana and drugs in general.
The survey attributed this in part to a glamorization of drugs in pop music, movies and television shows, and to an absence of national and community leadership in discouraging experimentation with drugs.
"Today's teens are less likely to consider drug use harmful and risky, more likely to believe that drug use is widespread and tolerated, and feel more pressure to try illegal drugs than teens did just two years ago," the survey reported.
But it also found that there was resistance to some hard drugs, including crack cocaine, and, so far, adolescent drug use was below the peak years of the late 1970s, when about 50 percent of teens reported using marijuana. The low point in drug use was reached in 1992, when 22 percent reported using marijuana.
Parents also underestimate their children's encounters with drugs, the survey reported. Only 14 percent of the parents interviewed thought their children had experimented with marijuana, while 38 percent of the teen-agers said they had tried it. And 34 percent of the parents thought their children might have been offered drugs, while 52 percent of the teen-agers said they had.
Underscoring the lack of communication, 95 percent of the parents said they had discussed drugs with their children, but 77 percent of the children reported such talks.
Three out of every four parents interviewed said they would be upset if their children tried drugs, although 60 percent of the parents admitted they had used marijuana themselves at some time in their lives. Even so, 77 percent agreed that parents should forbid their children to use drugs at any time. Only 9 percent felt hypocritical about giving such warnings.
"We find parents strongly anti-drug and committed to their children's non-use," the survey said. "However, we do find that parents are suffering from a 'not my kid' syndrome."
As evidence that greater parental involvement discourages drug use, the survey found that teen-agers were twice as likely to use marijuana in the past year if they had not learned about the risks from their parents.
But one-third of the parents said they felt they had little influence over whether their children would try marijuana. And 57 percent welcomed information that would persuade their children not to do so.
The study was conducted for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America by Audits & Surveys Worldwide, a market research company in New York. This survey, like one done two years ago, was based on confidential questionnaires in schools and homes across the country. Six earlier surveys done by another company had relied on encounters with young people in shopping malls.
The study confirms other reports that drug use by adolescents has been rising since 1992. An annual National Household Survey on Drug Abuse issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, reported that monthly use of illicit drugs by adolescents 12 to 17 years old declined from 3.2 million to 1.3 million between 1985 and 1992. It increased to 2.1 million in 1994.
Lloyd D. Johnston, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, described the resurgence as a case of "intergenerational forgetting," as adolescents who learned the dangers of drugs grew up and moved on. He said the resurgence did not extend to college students or young adults.
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Portland NORML notes: Two graphs that originally accompanied this article are omitted here.
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