Parenting a Drug-Free Teen

CB103947With all the statistics and media coverage of teens abusing alcohol and drugs, parents may feel discouraged and worried that they can’t protect their child from the pitfalls of substance abuse. Fortunately, that is not true. Research has consistently shown that parents have a very strong influence on their child’s likelihood of trying drugs. For example, in December 2012, Science Daily reported a new study’s conclusion that parental involvement is more important than the school environment in preventing or limiting children’s use of alcohol or marijuana. The researchers found that teens with parents who were actively involved in their lives and who foster open communication were much less likely to use alcohol or marijuana.

Research also has consistently demonstrated some key elements in parenting styles that help prevent a teen from dabbling in substance abuse. Here are some tips for keeping your teen drug-free:

  • Keep teens busy with positive activities. Children who have a passion or are meaningfully engaged in sports, academic or social activities are less prone to get involved with drug use.
  • Be actively involved in your teen’s life. Attend their sports games. Meet their teachers. Get to know their friends. Find something you can enjoy together, such as training for a race, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or cooking dinner for the family.
  • Keep lines of communication open.  Maintaining an open dialog with children helps nurture a relationship in which teens feel safe talking about anything that is bothering them. While all children have secrets, you should take interest in your teens and encourage them to discuss what is going on in their lives. You should actively listen – be interested in what they say – and stay calm (not emotional) about what they say. Work through challenges together, asking your teen questions so that they can see how to solve problems. Take time to learn about your child’s hobbies to help bond with him or her. Talk to your kids about making good choices in their life, such as having friends that share their values and refusing to take drugs – it should be an ongoing conversation about the benefits and pitfalls of their decisions. Your teen ought to be able to repeat to someone your reasons for not wanting them to take drugs.
  • Be a good role model. Your attitude about drugs and alcohol influences your child’s attitude and future behavior. If you choose to drink alcohol, consume small amounts with a meal or for a celebratory occasion. When it comes to prescription drugs, be sure to follow the instructions properly, to not share your prescription medications with other family members or friends, and to dispose of unused prescription drugs properly. Do not use alcohol or other drugs as a way to deal with stress. When you are overwhelmed, try exercising or using other stress management techniques in order to teach your children that they do not need to drink or use drugs to cope with life’s problems.
  • Establish clear boundaries and limits and follow through on consequences. Research shows that teens with an overly strict parent or a lenient, lax or “best friend” parent are more likely to engage in alcohol or drug abuse. Parents can be supportive and warm while still making sure their teen follows rules and completes their responsibilities.

Studies show that there are four common risk factors associated with teen drug and alcohol abuse:

  • Family history of drug or alcohol problems, especially when it is the parent’s history, can place a child at increased risk for developing a problem.
  • If your child has a psychiatric condition like depression or, he or she is more at risk for developing a drug or alcohol problem.
  • Children who have experienced traumatic events, such as physical or sexual abuse or a car accident or natural disaster.
  • Children who frequently take risks or have difficulty controlling impulses are more at risk for substance use problems.

These factors are only an indication of greater risk, not a definitive that if your teen has one of these, they will definitely try drugs. Parents with teens who have one of these risk factors should be more vigilant of their child.

You can learn more about preventing teen substance abuse at:

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