• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Wednesday 19th May, 2010

A family life less likely to drive children to drink?

Increase the tax on drink and consumption will fall – as will the social and economic costs associated with excess. But, where young people and their susceptibilities are concerned, other interventions can be as effective, as well as being more obviously benevolent.Among the examples of proven alcohol abuse prevention programs is Gilbert Botvin’s school-based Life Skills Training [See: Who needs drugs when you can binge on life skills?]Another contender is Preparing for the Drug Free Years (PDFY) developed and tested by the University of Washington’s Social Development Research Group. PDFY is a product of the social development model that has guided the Washington team’s work over three decades. It stresses the value of clear boundaries, and seeks to strengthen the connections between young people and community role models.Long in development and repeatedly evaluated, PDFY has several distinctive features. It requires just five training sessions. It concentrates more attention on parents than on their children, and it promotes skills which, used at home, are known to help young people to be pro-social. Like LST it is school-based, so it feels a less threatening proposition to parents.PDFY teaches parents how to reward their children for their contribution to family life. They are encouraged to set clear expectations, monitor discipline and to chide appropriately when rules are broken. They are also taught how to help their children resist peer pressure to participate in anti-social behavior. There is a focus on reducing family conflict and on helping parents to express their love and to show their admiration for their children.Evaluation results suggest a lessening of the risks that lead to adolescent problems as well as a reduction in the incidence of the problems themselves.It appears that PDFY narrows the variation in parental norms and improves “family management practices”. Findings on family conflict and emboldening children to resist peer pressure are more mixed.Does changing parenting impact on the behavior of impressionable middle-school pupils? The answer here is more clear cut. PDFY appears to delay the onset of drinking. It also reduces the use of other substances including tobacco, marijuana, inhalants and stronger illicit drugs such as cocaine. The benefits are felt also in terms of reduced delinquency and – less anticipated – lower levels of depression.Overall, the effects of PDFY may be modest, but then so is the intervention. In an era when there are big demands on people’s time and school budgets, to be able to make even a modest impact on child well-being via five training sessions is a significant gain. Take up of PDFY and similar programs has nevertheless been slow. It seems governments around the world, strapped for cash as they may be, are happier to meet the costs of alcohol misuse as the problems occur rather than to preventing them happening. See: Park J and colleagues, “Effects of the ‘Preparing for the Drug Free Years’ curriculum on growth in alcohol use and risk for alcohol use in early adolescence”, Prevention Science, 1, 3, 125-138, 2000 and Kosterman R and colleagues, “Preparing for the drug free years: Session-specific effects of a universal parent-training intervention with rural families”, Journal of Drug Education, 31, 1, 47-68, 2001

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