Objective. To identify which specific parenting behaviors are associated with the onset of alcohol and tobacco use and how they are associated.

Design. Prospective cohort study of two groups of preadolescents surveyed annually, the first group for 4 years, the second for 3 years.

Setting. Two public school districts in Southern California.

Subjects. 1034 fifth graders and 1266 seventh graders began the study after obtaining parental consent to complete surveys in a classroom setting. By the last measurement, attrition was 37 and 38% for the two cohorts, respectively.

Main outcome measures. The onset of tobacco or alcohol use in the last month.

Results. Children who reported that parents spent more time with them and communicated with them more frequently had lower onset rates of using alcohol and tobacco in the last month. These parental interactions lead to more positive relationships with their children. Parental monitoring and positive relations were protective factors for disruptive behavior and the selection of substance-using friends. Disruptive behavior increased the odds of adolescents drinking in the last month approximately twofold and of smoking in the last month two to fourfold.

Conclusions. This study provides further evidence that parenting behaviors are significant precursors to adolescent disruptive behavior, vulnerability to peer pressure, and subsequent substance use. Parents should be targeted in future substance use prevention programs, before their children reach adolescence.

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