It’s hard enough being a parent today without the upward battle of preventing future substance abuse in your children. While no prevention strategy is foolproof, below are six guidelines parents can implement which will hopefully lead their children to productive lives free of substance abuse.
The first thing a parent should focus on is maintaining a close, warm relationship with their teen. While teenagers can be frustrating, asserting their independence one minute, and trying to escape responsibility the next, it is important to not cut the “heart-ties” with your child. Try to avoid power struggles and yelling matches. These only drive your teenager away from you and towards a life of substance abuse. When you have a close relationship with your teen, you are more apt at discussing important issues, like what is really going on in their social life.
One way you can develop a closer relationship is to find mutually constructive activities, like serving the needy, or running a mini-marathon together. Find out what interests your teen and be their biggest fan. Discuss movies and music that your teen is currently into, but don’t forget the past. Bring up pleasant family memories made together. If you do find yourself in a heated disagreement with your teen, acknowledge your part in things and apologize.
Second, the old adage “Do as I say and not as I do” doesn’t work when it comes to abusing alcohol or drugs. Studies show that children who see their parents using illicit drugs or getting drunk are far more likely to do the same themselves. Be sure to use prescription medications appropriately and throw away unused portions. If you do drink alcohol, drinking it with a meal or on special occasions is better than on a daily basis or to deal with negative emotions. When you do have a bad day, dealing with things in a constructive way, rather than relaxing with a couple of drinks, emulates to teens how they can handle their own emotions in a healthy fashion.
Third, it is important to consider the risk factors your child may have and discuss those with them at an early age. Risk factors that can result in higher substance abuse might be a family history of addiction, psychological diagnoses such as bi-polar disorder, ADHD, and depression or anxiety disorders. Having a mental health ailment doesn’t necessarily mean your child will develop a substance use problem, but it is even more crucial to have a discussion with them that encourages them to use extra caution when they are of legal age to drink.
Fourth, get to know your kid’s friends. During adolescence, peers become a strong influence in a teen’s life. Whenever possible, have your children’s friends over to your home and ask questions of them in a casual manner. Knowing their family rules and boundaries can help you figure out the kind of person they are. Discuss characteristics of what typifies a quality friend and if you sense your teen might have friends who are otherwise, try to widen their social circle. When possible, ask objectively about their friend’s risky behaviors and ask your kid their opinion on how those attributes could rub off on them.
Fifth, it is important to know where and what your teen is doing at all times and to set appropriate boundaries for them. Be aware of how they are performing academically as studies have shown that plummeting grades can be a precursor to substance abuse. When there is a get-together with friends, make sure you or another adult is in attendance. When setting boundaries, explain why the boundary is needed and don’t make unreasonable ones like having too early a curfew, etc. It is important to discuss the consequences of drug and alcohol use and what privileges will be lost if they engage in unsafe behavior.
Lastly, have continuing conversations on the topic of drugs and alcohol. Merely having one discussion about how they shouldn’t use drugs or drink illegally will not suffice. Let them know the health risks and the possible threat to their safety and well-being. Expressing how you disapprove of substance abuse has been proven to make a difference in the life of a teen. Don’t be naïve. Your son or daughter may have already been offered drugs or alcohol. Asking that question may circumvent their own use. Studies have shown that the longer the delay is before your child drinks, the greater their chances are for not developing a substance use disorder. The discussion is definitely worth having.
Overall, get involved with your teen when it comes to substance abuse. It is easy to ignore these steps, especially when it seems like your adolescent doesn’t want to spend tons of time with you the way they did when they were younger. Doing so now though will help ensure your teen develops into a happy and healthy adult who appropriately drinks in a responsible and safe manner.