Parents want to steer their kids away from drugs and alcohol. But they’re often at a loss about how to do it. Below are six steps every mom and dad can take to decrease the chances of teen substance abuse:
(1) Build a warm and supportive relationship with your child. Research appearing in the August 2005 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health shows that parents who have close bonds with their teens experience fewer problems with discipline and are better able to monitor their kids’ behavior and friends.
Participate in shared activities, such as sports, music or technology. Stay calm when discussing difficult issues. Keep communication open so your kids will want to talk.
(2) Be a good role model. If you drink alcohol, do so responsibly. Never get drunk in front of your children. Take all medications as prescribed and dispose of leftover drugs in a safe manner (for example, use a drug take-back program). Manage your stress constructively, using exercise or meditation instead of alcohol or drugs.
(3) Know your child’s risk level. A family history of substance abuse, mental illness, trauma and poor impulse control increases the likelihood a teen will abuse drugs or alcohol. Watch carefully for social or behavioral problems. Never ignore risk factors or assume that a serious problem will go away on its own. Always seek professional help if a situation feels beyond your control.
(4) Know your child’s friends. A 1995 study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that kids whose friends used tobacco were more likely to smoke. Talk to teens about how to select friends, emphasizing characteristics such as loyalty, making good life choices, and wanting what’s best for your child. Engage friends in conversation. Keep a close eye on friends whose behavior concerns you.
Check in with friends’ parents to find out about their rules, particularly those about adult supervision or serving alcohol to minors.
(5) Monitor, supervise and set boundaries. Data published in the July 2005 issue of Child Development show that parental monitoring of children’s behavior has a favorable and long-lasting impact on their decisions about drugs. Examples of effective monitoring include knowing where your teens are, who they’re with and what they’re doing at all times.
It also means keeping track of school attendance and performance; one indication of drug use can be increased absenteeism and declining grades. Be clear about the consequences if expectations aren’t met. Avoid setting unrealistic standards or imposing overly harsh punishments. They may actually push children away and prevent them from opening up to you.
(6) Have ongoing conversations and provide information about drugs and alcohol. Avoid boring lectures. But do make your disapproval about underage drinking and drug use loud and clear. Allow teens to voice their opinions and ask questions. And do answer their questions about your own drug or alcohol history honestly. Attempts to deceive them will be viewed as hypocritical and will undermine your authority.
(Adapted from the Treatment Research Institute and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. For more information, visit www.drugfree.org.)
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.