Unsupervised Time and its Relation to Teen Risk Behavior

By Lil Cronin
First published in The Milton Times, May 2019

As summer approaches and the school year ends, teens are likely to have more unstructured and often more unsupervised time in their day. Parents want their children to enjoy these days in a safe and healthy manner. A Reuters health study confirms the concerns of adults that teens who spend more than the average amount of unsupervised time “ hanging out” with their peers are more likely to smoke cigarettes, use marijuana and to drink alcohol. For all three substances, having used them by the age of 15 raised the odds 3-to 4 -fold of use by the end of high school.

Surprisingly, researchers found that greater than average involvement in structured school and afterschool activities, such as sports and part-time employment, appeared to have only a modest protective effect. The study team expected to find that greater involvement in structured activities would lead to a lower use of forbidden substances. However, it was found that unsupervised time with peers was the most significant predictor of substance abuse. Other studies supported the findings that unsupervised time with peers and lack of structure can increase the risk of delinquency and illegal behaviors.

Parental influence on teen substance use was looked at, as well. Seeing parents and other adults in the home drinking, smoking, or using marijuana is often a major predictor of whether the kids will do the same. It is recommended that parents set rules around the use of tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol use among teenagers, with clear expectations and with consequences that are carried out consistently.

The Milton Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition’s website has good tips for parents at https://www.milton-coalition.org/get-educated

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