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Developmental researchers have consistently demonstrated that one specific style of parenting, termed authoritative, is both associated with and predictive of a wide range of indicators of adolescent competence. Authoritative parenting (see Steinberg, 1990) is conceptualized as being high in three components: warmth (authoritative parents are involved in their children's lives and responsive to their needs), structure (authoritative parents set clear and age-appropriate limits for their children's behavior), and psychological autonomy granting (authoritative parents encourage offspring to develop their own ideas and opinions, even when such opinions may differ from their own). Parents who are perceived by their offspring to be authoritative have children who are more academically competent, engage in less problem behavior, exhibit more positive psychosocial development, and report lower levels of internalized distress than do their peers raised in nonauthoritative homes (Lamborn et al., 1991).
Demonstrated links between authoritative parenting and adolescent well-being have indicated that adolescents from authoritative homes are less likely to engage in one specific type of problem behavior: use of drugs and alcohol (Cohen and Rice, 1997; Lamborn et al., 1991; Steinberg et al., 1994). However, parenting style researchers have typically examined links between authoritative parenting and composite measures of adolescent substance use. Such composite measures combine adolescent responses to questions concerning use of tobacco, alcohol, and a variety of illicit drugs (Lamborn et at., 1991; Steinberg et al., 1994). This approach ignores important between-substance distinctions in legality, accessibility, and whether use of a given substance is mood-altering or behaviorally impairing. Researchers who have examined patterns of adolescent substance use in a more detailed manner (Barnes et al., 1994; Beck et al., 1997; Brook et al., 1985; Reifman et al., 1998) have typically considered how use and abuse of specific substances (e.g., alcohol or tobacco) may be linked with parental characteristics (e.g., parents' own substance use, parental monitoring). However, these researchers have been less likely to consider associations between parenting styles and adolescent use of specific types of illicit substances. Exceptions to this tendency include the work of Cohen and Rice (1997), who demonstrated that authoritative parenting was linked with lower levels of both tobacco and alcohol use, considered separately. In general, however, there has been a lack of communication between parenting style and substance-specific research. This may limit our understanding of how the home environment supports or discourages substance use, and particularly use of those substances which are easy to obtain, such as tobacco.
Research linking authoritative parenting with adolescent substance use has also been limited by its failure to consider mechanisms that may link parenting style with such use. In other words, although we suspect that authoritative parents will have children who are less frequent users of tobacco products, we are still unsure of exactly how authoritative parenting translates into a reduced risk of engaging in such use. In other words, what are the mechanisms that may explain links between authoritative parenting and adolescent tobacco use?
Research has indicated that peer tobacco use plays a particularly important role in determining the likelihood that adolescents will use tobacco products themselves. Early adolescents whose friends use tobacco products are more likely to themselves use such products (Ried et al., 1987). The high degree of similarity in rates of tobacco use among peers is partially attributable to the tendency of tobacco-using adolescents to selectively affiliate with one another. However, research has demonstrated that in the case of substance use in general, similarity among peers is due both to selective affiliation and to the likelihood that peers will grow more similar to each other over time (Kandel, 1978). Accordingly, there is reason to suspect that both selection and socialization influences are at work with regard to peer similarity in tobacco use.
A number of researchers have considered ways in which parental and peer influences may work together to explain the likelihood that adolescents will engage in tobacco use. Such efforts have typically focused on parental behaviors and practices such as levels of parents' own tobacco use (Kandel and Wu, 1995), parental monitoring and control (Ary et al., 1999; Chassin et at., 1998; Stacy et al., 1992), and parental support (Wills et al., 1995). Findings have indicated that levels of tobacco use are lowest when parents are nontobacco users, and monitor, supervise, and support their offspring. However, to our knowledge, there have been no research efforts that have examined ways in which parenting style and peer patterns of tobacco use work together to influence the likelihood that an adolescent will engage in tobacco use. It is possible that these two factors play independent roles in relation to adolescent tobacco use. However, it is also likely that the associations among these variables are more complex.
Child socialization researchers have suggested that a key way in which parents influence the well-being of children is by steering them toward membership in prosocial peer groups (see Parke and Ladd, 1992). Positive influences from peers may then benefit adolescents in terms of academic competence (Natriello and McDill, 1986) and lower levels of involvement in problem behavior (Ried et al., 1987). We propose that any observed associations between authoritative parenting and lower levels of tobacco use may be explained by the greater likelihood that children from authoritative homes will affiliate with nontobacco-using peers, who will in turn influence one another to avoid use of such products. In other words, peer levels of tobacco use may mediate associations between authoritative parenting and adolescents' own tobacco use.
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