Family bonding, communication to prevent adolescent substance use

Members of the Mercyhurst College community learned about the influence parents have on adolescent substance use from the lecture “Family Ties: How Parents Influence Adolescent Substance Abuse.”

Kristen Burillo and Natalie Montero presented this lecture on Thursday, Dec. 9, as part of “The Flourishing Child” yearlong series.

Burillo instructed the audience on the importance of family communication as a means to prevent alcohol and drug use among teenagers. She supported her recommendations with data collected by the Pennsylvania Youth Survey.

Scoot Williams photo: Kristen Burillo spoke at Mercyhurst College as part of the yearlong "Flourishing Child" series.Scoot Williams photo: Kristen Burillo spoke at Mercyhurst College as part of the yearlong "Flourishing Child" series.
According to Burillo, the lack of family bonding predicts alcohol use. Research suggests that a mother’s alcohol policy may be more influential than the father’s, especially among girls.

Burillo advised parents to develop specific rules regarding alcohol, like prohibiting alcohol use, and monitoring children closely to discourage substance use.

While social and peer influences often impact adolescents, Burillo said that family factors, such as substance use among siblings, coincide with increased levels of underage drinking or illegal drug use.

Freshman Alysha Martini said, “The presentation opened my eyes to a new way of understanding how families have an impact on (adolescents’) futures.”

Burillo pointed out that parents are often stricter with younger children, but parents’ discussions and rules with older children about substance use can be equally effective until the drinking behaviors are established.

“It is not the age but the history of use that makes the difference,” said Burillo.

Montero followed Burillo’s lecture with a presentation on a seven-week Strengthening Families Program that she coordinates for the Erie Family Center. The program teaches parents and children to connect with one another to improve family dynamics.

“We try to convey that every family has strengths,” Montero said.

Each meeting consisted of a parent session, in which parents learn concepts such as “love and limits;” a youth session, in which children learn through games or role-playing; and a family session, in which families eat dinner with the staff.

“The policies really had an effect on the family,” graduate student Molly Carlson said.

All of the programs provided by the Erie Family Center are free, and Montero said the center has never refused a family in need.

The presentation was made possible by the Mercyhurst Civic Institute and Erie Family Center.