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Parents of teens: Before you sneer at all those other kids out there who are doing drugs and drinking, you might want to have a frank talk with your own.

Chances are you're underestimating your teenager's drug and alcohol use, according to a new poll of parents of teens ages 13-17, out of the University of Michigan.

Ten per cent of parents believe their own teens have used alcohol in the last year and just 5 per cent believe their own teens have used marijuana.

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The teens themselves? According to the most recent research, 52 per cent of 10th graders reported drinking alcohol in the last year and 28 per cent of 10th graders reported using marijuana in the last year.

"There's a clear mismatch between what parents are reporting in terms of their children's possible use of substances and what teenagers report themselves," Bernard Biermann, the medical director of the Child/Adolescent Inpatient Unit at the University of Michigan, said in a release.

The numbers aren't too different in Canada. In its 2009 report about Ontario teens' drug and alcohol use, Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that 58 per cent of students in Grade 7 to 12 reported drinking in the past year. And one in four teens smoked marijuana in the past year.

The Michigan researchers also found that parents of teens over-estimate what other people's teens are up to. Parents believe that at least 40 per cent of 10th graders used marijuana in the last year and that 60 per cent of 10th graders drank alcohol.

"In other words, parents are more likely to expect marijuana and alcohol use by teenagers other than their own," the researchers said in the release.

Dr. Biermann suggests that in addition to educational campaigns, parents need to communicate better. In the release, Dr. Biermann's advice includes raising the topic in a non-threatening, non-judgmental way and not overreacting to a single instance of substance use.

Still, the Times' Lisa Belkin sums it up best. While the researchers are doing their best to offer up helpful suggestions, perhaps the most useful tip for parents is " ...the message that it quite likely is your kid."

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Ouch.

Parents, how realistic are you about what your teen is up to?

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