Are Your Children At Risk Of Smoking Or Drinking By Age 11?

Are Your Children At Risk Of Smoking Or Drinking By Age 11?

Unsurprisingly, this sad situation causes children stress and exposes them to risk-taking behaviour.

The answer is children with an absent parent. Unsurprisingly, this sad situation causes children stress and exposes them to risk-taking behaviour.

A study undertaken by the University College London found that children who experienced the death or absence of a parent by age 7 were more than twice as likely to smoke and almost 50% as likely to drink by age 11 as peers living with both parents.

“We know from previous studies that people who experienced parental absence in childhood are more likely to smoke and/or drink in adulthood,” said lead study author Dr Rebecca Lacey.

“These findings suggest that the uptake of risky health behaviours may be occurring earlier in life than we previously thought,” Lacey added.

Researchers surveyed 10,940 children born in the Britain from September 2000 to January 2002. They started when the children were 9 months, following up again at 3,5,7 and 11 years. For the final survey, the researchers asked children directly if they had ever smoked a cigarette or had an alcoholic drink, consuming enough to feel drunk.

From the survey group, 29% of boys and 28% of girls had a parental absence by age 7. Most of the absent parents were the fathers.

Slightly more than half of these children experienced the death or departure of a parent by the time they were 3 years old.

Compared to children whose parents were absent for other reasons, children who experienced the death of a parent were more than 12 times as likely to report consuming enough to feel drink.

When surveyed at 11 years-old, 15% of boys and 11% of girls admitted to trying alcohol, with 12% of boys and 7% of girls drinking to the point of feeling drunk at least once.

The authors did note that one limitation of the study is that they did not look at parental deaths or departures after age 7, making it impossible to conclude how an absence between ages 7 and 11 might influence risky behaviours.

Still, these findings add weight to the idea that family structures and dynamics greatly influence whether children develop substance abuse issues.

Suzannah Creech, a psychology researcher at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and the Veterans Health Administration in Waco, Texas weighs in, "When a parental absence does happen, there are still things the remaining parents and caregivers can do to help minimise the odds that children will drink or smoke."

“Making sure children’s basic needs are met and that they have a positive relationship with an attachment figure such as a parent, grandparent or older sibling can be protective factors,” Creech said.

So no matter what circumstances your child is born into, love and support from the parent or guardian remains absolutely integral to helping them stay on the right track.


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Hanna Lee

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