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Study: Parents’ Behavior Affects Kids

FAMILY.ORG (12/02/2002)

By Steve Jordahl, correspondent

If you needed another reminder that “do as I say, not as I do” parenting doesn’t work, a new study should convince you.

A new study concludes what many parents have already discovered: Parents’ risky behavior influences children.

The study, published in the September issue of The Milbank Quarterly, reveals that children are slightly more likely to be sexually active if they see their parents engaging in risky behavior as seemingly unrelated as driving without a seatbelt.

Smoking and excessive drinking were the other factors considered, and predictably, they had an even bigger impact on an adolescent’ s behavior. The study found that adolescents who had parents that smoked were 50 percent more likely to have had sex. They were also more likely to have sex by age 15.

The lesson, said the study’s co-author Dr. Toni Terling Watt, is that parents are setting an example for their kids.

“There seems to be a relationship between parents taking risks with their health and adolescents taking risks of all different varieties,” said Watt, a professor at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.

She added another factor in the study is the time parents spend with their kids.

“Mothers who were at home more often tended to have daughters who were less likely to engage in sexual activities ... and boys with fathers at home were more likely to not engage in sexual activity.”

Although the study didn’t explore spirituality, Bob Knight of the Washington, D.C.-based Culture and Family Institute said the reason for the connection is spiritual.

“All kids are naturally inclined to sin and to do wrong things, and they look for excuses to do it,” Knight said. “The best possible excuse for a kid would be to see a parent acting irresponsibly.”

Beyond just setting an example, Knight said parents need to set rules.

“It shows that ’do as I say, not as I do’ just flat out doesn’t work. In fact, it’s probably worse than not saying anything at all,” he added. “(It also indicates) that kids need boundaries. They’re looking to parents to provide them. They actually get resentful and rebellious when parents don’t provide boundaries.”