Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp 347–368 | Cite as

Differential Effects of Parental Controls on Adolescent Substance Use: For Whom is the Family Most Important?

  • Abigail A. Fagan
  • M. Lee Van Horn
  • J. David Hawkins
  • Thomas Jaki
Original Paper



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.


Social control theory Adolescent substance use Risk and protective factors Regression mixture models 



A version of this paper was presented at the 2011 Society for Prevention Research Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. This research was supported by grant #R01 HD054736, M. Lee Van Horn (PI), funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Data for the paper are from the Diffusion Study, J. David Hawkins (PI), funded by Grant #R01 DA10768 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Abigail A. Fagan
    • 1
  • M. Lee Van Horn
    • 2
  • J. David Hawkins
    • 3
  • Thomas Jaki
    • 4
  1. 1.College of Criminology and Criminal JusticeFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  3. 3.Social Development Research Group, School of Social WorkUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  4. 4.Medical and Pharmaceutical Research Unit, Department of Mathematics and StatisticsLancaster UniversityLancasterUK

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