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Differential effects of parental controls on adolescent substance use: for whom is the family most important?

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


  • Abigail A. Fagan
  • M. Lee Van Horn
  • J. David Hawkins
  • Thomas Jaki
Journal publication date09/2013
JournalJournal of Quantitative Criminology
Number of pages22
Early online date1/09/12
Original languageEnglish


Social control theory assumes that the ability of social constraints to deter juvenile delinquency will be invariant across individuals. This paper tests this hypothesis and examines the degree to which there are differential effects of parental controls on adolescent substance use.
Analyses are based on self-reported data from 7,349 10th-grade students and rely on regression mixture models to identify latent classes of individuals who may vary in the effects of parental controls on drug use.
All parental controls were significantly related to adolescent drug use, with higher levels of control associated with less drug use. The effects of instrumental parental controls (e.g., parental management strategies) on drug use were shown to vary across individuals, while expressive controls (e.g., parent/child attachment) had uniform effects in reducing drug use. Specifically, poor family management and more favorable parental attitudes regarding children’s drug use and delinquency had stronger effects on drug use for students who reported greater attachment to their neighborhoods, less acceptance of adolescent drug use by neighborhood residents, and fewer delinquent peers, compared to those with greater community and peer risk exposure. Parental influences were also stronger for Caucasian students versus those from other racial/ethnic groups, but no differences in effects were found based on students’ gender or commitment to school.
The findings demonstrate support for social control theory, and also help to refine and add precision to this perspective by identifying groups of individuals for whom parental controls are most influential. Further, they offer an innovative methodology that can be applied to any criminological theory to examine the complex forces that result in illegal behavior.