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Study Shows Parents Still Affect Children's Behavior

By The Associated Press

CHICAGO - Parents who have just about given up when it comes to their teen-agers should know this: Adults have a powerful effect on their children's behavior right through the high school years, a study found. "There is a perception that pretty much after early adolescence, parents surrender their influence over kids and kids become beholden to the peer group," said lead author Michael D. Resnick, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. "Everything in this study suggests the contrary." The 1995 federally funded study is the most comprehensive survey ever done of American adolescents, involving more than 12,000 seventh- through 12th-graders.

The findings, published in Wednesday's issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, indicate that the more teen-agers feel loved by their parents and comfortable in their schools, the less likely they are to have early sex, smoke, abuse alcohol or drugs, or commit violence or suicide. The researchers found that if parents expected adolescents to get good grades and refrain from sex, those expectations influenced the adolescents' behavior powerfully through 12th grade, regardless of family income, race or single- or dual-parent status. "Adolescents are often very effective at convincing us that what we say is irrelevant to their lives, and the mistake we make as adults is that we turn around and we believe it," said Resnick, a father of two. But to a large extent, the study found, the health and well-being of teen-agers "still rests in that strong feeling of being cared for by parents," Resnick said.

Besides "shattering the myth that parents no longer matter in the lives of kids," the findings also belie many current beliefs about the key to successful schools, Resnick said. Far more important than school size or type or the training of teachers is whether the school is an "arena of comfort, a place where kids want to be - they have a sense of belonging, they feel that teachers care about them and they feel that teachers are fair," he said. "It is, after all, the perceptions of the kids that really make the difference here," Resnick said.

An expert not involved in the work, Dr. Jonathan D. Klein of the University of Rochester School of Medicine in New York, said the findings are consistent with much previous research. He said the findings support guidelines developed by federal and private health leaders that say doctors should counsel parents about the importance of setting clear expectations and being good role models.

 

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