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November 1998

Clueless: Parental Knowledge of Risk Behaviors of Middle School Students

Author Affiliations

From the University of Kentucky Medical Center, Departments of Pediatrics (Dr Young) and Behavioral Medicine (Dr Zimmerman), Kentucky Clinic, Lexington.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1998;152(11):1137-1139. doi:10.1001/archpedi.152.11.1137

Objectives  To determine parental knowledge of risk behaviors of their middle-school-aged children and to compare that knowledge with behaviors reported by the students.

Design  Confidential surveys were administered to 194 poor and middle-class middle school students and their parents.

Intervention  None.

Main Outcome Measure  Compare parental awareness and student admission of risk behaviors.

Results  Students and parents agree on the prevalence of some risk behaviors, including use of a seat belt, use of a bicycle helmet, arrest by police, use of diet pills, and attempts to lose weight through dieting and exercise. Small differences in perception, which were not statistically significant but which could be defined as trends, were found relating to the prevalence of dieting, exercising, or vomiting to lose weight. Statistically significant differences were found in the perceptions of the prevalence of the following risk behaviors: carrying a weapon to school (P<.001), LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) or cocaine use (P=.02), suicide attempt (P<.001), sexual intercourse (P<.001), alcohol use (P<.001), tobacco use (P<.001), and marijuana use (P<.001). In many cases, parents dramatically underestimated the prevalence of these behaviors in students.

Conclusions  Parents are largely ignorant of the extent to which their adolescents are involved in major risk behaviors. Educating parents in this area encourages them to support comprehensive health education curricula and other preventive programs in schools and communities.