Researchers surveyed middle schoolers from diverse
backgrounds and found those whose parents had an "authoritative" and
"structured" parenting style were also more likely to be discouraged
from smoking by their parents and less likely to become smokers.
"Many past studies have examined broad parenting styles, however
this study looked at how specific parenting strategies may help
protect youth from cigarette smoking initiation," said Cassandra
Stanton, an assistant professor in the oncology department at
Georgetown University, who led the study.
"We also note that unlike many studies in the area that are
conducted in largely white middle class samples, this study was
conducted in an urban multi-ethnic low-income school district,"
Stanton told Reuters Health.
It's important to identify ways of helping parents prevent kids from
starting to smoke, Stanton's team writes in the Journal of Pediatric
Psychology, because the majority of lifetime smokers begin before
the age of 18.
Although the number of teenage smokers has declined significantly,
one in three young adults reports smoking at least once in the past
30 days, according to a 2012 report by the U.S. Surgeon General.
Past research has found links between low discipline, parental
disengagement and increased risk of smoking, Stanton's team notes.
Rates of smoking vary among ethnic groups, with white students
smoking daily at a rate twice that of African American and Latino
students. However, African Americans and Latinos experience
significantly higher rates of smoking-related health complications
later in life compared with whites.
To delve deeper into which parenting strategies are effective among
a diverse set of families, the researchers recruited 459 eighth
graders from two low-income inner-city schools in the Northeast. The
students averaged 13-years-old, with 29 percent identifying
themselves as Hispanic, 34 percent as African American, 17 percent
as non-Hispanic white and 20 percent as other/mixed ethnicity.
The students took a comprehensive survey in class with parental
consent. The survey asked about the student's smoking history and
whether the student's parents smoked. It also asked questions about
parenting styles, such as discipline and warmth, and whether the
student would receive punishments and discussion of the dangers of
tobacco if caught smoking.
The researchers then followed up four years later to assess whether
students had smoked.
Stanton's group found that what they called controlling parenting,
which was associated with rule enforcement, curfews and set
bedtimes, was more likely than a less strict, more understanding
parenting style to go hand in hand with so-called anti-tobacco
[to top of second column]
Those anti-tobacco strategies include punishing a child if he or
she has been caught smoking and discussing with the child the
motivations behind smoking and why smoking is so dangerous. Being on
the receiving end of such anti-tobacco strategies was in turn linked
to a lower likelihood of lifetime smoking for the student.
The association held regardless of race or ethnicity, which the
researchers say should be reassuring because other cultural
differences don't seem to alter the effectiveness of this approach.
It is important for parents to take an active role in protecting
their children from developing an addiction to tobacco, Stanton
"Setting and enforcing clear standards of behavior and actively
monitoring and supervising a teen's activities are important
strategies for protecting youth from risky behavior," she said.
"To protect youth from experimenting with tobacco and ultimately
developing an addiction to tobacco, it is important to talk about
the risks of tobacco, as well as set and enforce clear rules and
consequences that are specific to tobacco."
Heather Patrick at the Health Behaviors Research Branch of the
National Cancer Institute, who was not involved in this study,
believes structure and authority in parenting is an important tool
in preventing teens from smoking. However, she cautions,
"heavy-handed" parenting can often cause stress and strain in the
Patrick said smoking cessation interventions should be tailored to
different groups to be more effective. "It's helpful for
intervention materials to have images that show a diversity of
racial and ethnic groups," she wrote in an email.
It's also helpful, she said, for anti-smoking messages to provide
examples, "like how to deal with cravings, how to be smoke free when
all of your friends are smoking, or how to deal with conflict at
home, to connect with the kinds of experiences real teen smokers
Pediatric Psychology, online Dec. 4
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