Comments on “Are Homeschooled Adolescents Less Likely to Use Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs?” by Vaughn et al. [endnote 1]
Brian D. Ray
National Home Education Research Institute, Salem, Oregon, USA
Many homeschooling parents have been prodded with this leading question: “Why do you want to shelter your child from the world so much?” Sheltering or not, does research tell us anything new about the effects of home-based education on the social, emotional, and psychological lives of the home educated?
When someone negatively asks regarding the home education of children, “What about socialization?,” they usually have no empirical evidence in mind that informs their concerns. Vaughn et al. (2015), however, recently asked the question, “Are homeschooled adolescents less likely to use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs?” Their findings are fascinating and add one more piece to the puzzle regarding the potential positive (or negative) effects of parent-led home-based education.
This new study uses “… data from a large and long-running population-based study (National Survey on Drug Use and Health [NSDUH]) of adolescents in the United States between 2002 and 2013 …” (p. 6). By using this data set, the authors explain that they are able to address limitations – such as sampling bias and an overall lack of generalizability – in some prior research on homeschooling. The NSDUH “… utilizes multistage area probability sampling methods to select a representative sample of the U.S. civilian, non-institutionalized population aged 12 years or older” (p. 6). This study considered only those of ages 12 to 17.
These subjects were categorized as either homeschooled or not, based on the question, “Have you been home-schooled at any time during the past 12 months?” (p. 7). These youth were asked about the difficulty or ease of accessing various illicit substances. They were also asked about their use of tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, cocaine/crack, ecstasy, hallucinogens, inhalants, stimulants, and tranquilizers during the past month. Finally, information pertaining to several demographic variables was collected. This included age, gender, race/ethnicity, and total annual family income. The analyses were conducted while controlling for the sociodemographic factors.
The authors used binary logistic regression analyses to compare non-homeschooled adolescents with homeschooled adolescents with respect to sociodemographic characteristics, substance use views and access to illicit substances, and past 12 month substance use and substance use disorders. This study carefully controlled for sociodemographic factors, including age, gender, race/ethnicity, and household income. They reported that their analyses were survey adjusted.
What did the scholars find? First, “… compared to non-homeschooled adolescents, homeschooled adolescents are significantly more likely to report strong disapproval of adolescent alcohol use … as well as trying … and routinely using … marijuana” (p. 10).
Next, homeschooled adolescents were significantly less likely to report easy access to marijuana, cocaine, and crack. “No significant relationship was identified between homeschooled status and access to LSD. Homeschooled adolescents were also significantly less likely to report having been approached by someone selling illegal drugs in the past 30 days …” (p. 10).
What about actual use? First, controlling for age, gender, race/ethnicity, and household Income, homeschooled adolescents are significantly less likely than non-homeschooled adolescents to report use of tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis, but no significant differences were observed with respect to crack/cocaine, inhalants, stimulants, or tranquilizers; however, homeschooled adolescents were significantly less likely to have used ecstasy and hallucinogens.
More in-depth analysis revealed that homeschooled adolescents were significantly less likely than their non-homeschooled counterparts to report having used one or more illicit drugs in the previous 12 months.
Finally, the authors convey the following: “With respect to substance use disorders, homeschooled adolescents were significantly less likely to have met criteria for alcohol … and cannabis … use disorders, but no significant association was observed for other illicit drug use disorders” (p. 11).
The researchers wrap up their report by exploring why home-educated adolescents might have less access to and use of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs (ATOD) compared to their non-homeschooled peers. They write, rightly so, that several factors might contribute to differences in access, use and abuse of these substances. “First, homeschooling parents may be more likely to homeschool because they want to tailor their child’s socialization experiences, provide greater structure, and limit the amount of exposure to negative influences and increase positive supports and socialization experiences” (p. 14). They also point out that some research suggests that parents choose to homeschool to provide more religious or moral instruction, “… but also increasingly because parents want to provide a safer environment for their adolescents where they will be less likely to be exposed to sex, drugs and violence and to strengthen parent-child bonds” (p. 14).
The authors also posit that homeschooling provides “… greater levels of parental involvement and supervision and more control over peer groups and contexts in which peers socialize …” (p. 14) might lead to lower access to and use of substances among the home educated.
Vaughn et al. (2015) conclude with the following well-chosen words:
While causal relationships cannot be established [from this study], the significant differences between homeschooled versus non-homeschooled adolescents in regards to substance use is important and points to the need to more extensively examine the underlying mechanisms that may account for these differences. There are a number of theoretical mechanisms that could account for these differences, such as characteristics, values and beliefs of homeschooling families and adolescents, differences in the nature of the parent-child relationship, differences in peer group structure and context, and perhaps genetic differences. Future research could examine mediating and moderating factors that may account for these differences. (p. 16)
This study adds to the growing evidence (Ray, 2013) that even when studies that have more statistical controls built into them are done, home-educated students are doing well by many standards.
Vaughn, Michael G.; Salas-Wright, Christopher P.; Kremer, Kristen P.; Maynard, Brandy R.; Roberts, Greg; & Vaughn, Sharon. Are homeschooled adolescents less likely to use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs? Drug and Alcohol Dependence (2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2015.08.010
Ray, Brian D. (2013). Homeschooling associated with beneficial learner and societal outcomes but educators do not promote it. Peabody Journal of Education, 88(3), 324-341.
1. The “Perspectives – News and Comments” section of this journal consists of articles that have not undergone peer review.