Development and Psychopathology

Research Article

Substance use and related behaviors among suburban late adolescents: The importance of perceived parent containment

Suniya S. Luthara1 c1 and Adam S. Goldsteina1

a1 Teachers College, Columbia University


This study builds upon prior findings of elevated substance use among suburban high school students, examining the ramifications of different parenting dimensions on substance use and related behaviors. The sample consisted of 258 11th graders in an affluent suburban community. Parenting predictors considered included those well-studied previously such as monitoring and closeness, as well as two newer dimensions: perceived containment (stringency of anticipated reactions in reaction to negative behaviors) and perceived commitment (e.g., helping the child despite other commitments). Outcomes included self-reported substance use, delinquency, and rule breaking, as well as teacher-rated inattentiveness and school grades. Findings showed elevated substance use among these 17-year-olds compared with national norms, especially among girls. Of the parent predictors, significant unique links with multiple outcomes were found for parents' knowledge of their children's activities and perceived parental containment (stringent repercussions) in reaction to the children's substance use. Notably, students reported that their parents were much more tolerant of their substance use than of other problem behaviors such as rudeness to adults and minor acts of delinquency. Results are discussed along with the implications for practice and research.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Suniya S. Luthar, Teachers College, Columbia University, Box 133, 525 West 120th Street, New York, NY 10027; E-mail:


Preparation of the manuscript was funded in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health (R01-DA14385) and the William T. Grant Foundation. We thank Pamela J. Brown at Yale and members of our research laboratory at Teachers College for their suggestions in developing the containment and commitment measures.