Objectives: To determine parental knowledge of risk behaviors of their middle-school-aged children and to compare that knowledge with behaviors reported by the students.
Design: Confidential surveys were administered to 194 poor and middle-class middle school students and their parents.
Main outcome measure: Compare parental awareness and student admission of risk behaviors.
Results: Students and parents agree on the prevalence of some risk behaviors, including use of a seat belt, use of a bicycle helmet, arrest by police, use of diet pills, and attempts to lose weight through dieting and exercise. Small differences in perception, which were not statistically significant but which could be defined as trends, were found relating to the prevalence of dieting, exercising, or vomiting to lose weight. Statistically significant differences were found in the perceptions of the prevalence of the following risk behaviors: carrying a weapon to school (P<.001), LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) or cocaine use (P=.02), suicide attempt (P<.001), sexual intercourse (P<.001), alcohol use (P<.001), tobacco use (P<.001), and marijuana use (P<.001). In many cases, parents dramatically underestimated the prevalence of these behaviors in students.
Conclusions: Parents are largely ignorant of the extent to which their adolescents are involved in major risk behaviors. Educating parents in this area encourages them to support comprehensive health education curricula and other preventive programs in schools and communities.