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Perception of parents playing favorites linked to substance use, BYU study says

Perception of parents playing favorites linked to substance use, BYU study says

(Courtesy of BYU)


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PROVO — If a child thinks they aren’t favored by their parents as much as a sibling, they may be more likely to engage in substance use, according to a recent study.

Within disengaged families where members don’t have a close relationship, there is a strong link between perceived favoritism and the use of alcohol, cigarettes and drugs, according to a study by Brigham Young University professor Alex Jensen. He found that children were nearly twice as likely to use those substances if they thought they were slightly less favored than siblings.

“It’s not just how you treat them differently, but how your kids perceive it,” Jensen said in a news release. “Even in the case where the parents treated them differently, those actual differences weren’t linked to substance use – it was the perception.”

Siblings from 282 families were surveyed for the study, which was published in the “Journal of Family Psychology” in August. The average age of the older siblings who participated was 17, while the average for younger siblings was 14.

If a family had a close relationship, there was no link between perceived favoritism and substance use. However, the perception of preferential treatment was important in families who were more distant, according to the study.


It's not just how you treat them differently, but how your kids perceive it.

–Alex Jensen


“With favoritism in disengaged families, it wasn’t just that they were more likely to use any substances, it also escalated,” Jensen said. “If they were already smoking then they were more likely to drink also. Or if they were smoking and drinking, they were more likely to also use drugs.”

Jensen suggested parents could avoid having their children think they are less-favored by focusing on each individual’s talents.

“Show your love to your kids at a greater extent than you currently are,” he said. “As simple as it sounds, more warmth and less conflict is probably the best answer.”

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Natalie Crofts

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