As a parent, you play a significant role in your child’s choices about drug, alcohol, and nicotine use. Even if they pretend like what you say doesn’t matter, your children are always watching and listening. As they enter their teen years and begin to think more for themselves, your influence in their lives is still significant.
Parents can feel as if the world is spinning out of control and taking their teen with it, but there are ways to continue to protect your child and prevent drug and alcohol misuse.
Teens are processing a lot of information, stress, and changes in their lives. One of the most important gifts we can give our teens is that of space to hear their hearts and be present in their lives. Sometimes all our teens need is a safe place to unload and externally process what’s going on in their lives.
This isn’t the time for a lecture; learn what your teen’s opinions are about drugs and alcohol and find out what questions they have. Assure your child they can be honest with you. Discuss with them the messages they see and hear in the media and practice how to deal with peer pressure. Be ready to address questions about your own drug use, why you chose not to use or if you did, what that experience taught you.
Know the risks and communicate them to your teen. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers this downloadable PDF about alcohol use prevention, MayoClinic provides a thorough list of health risks related to specific drug use, and KidsHealth offers these similar tips:
It’s important to know where your child is, whom they are with, and what their plans are. Get to know your teen’s friends, and if a major change happens with your teen’s friend group, be ready to talk about it. What prompted the change? Who are the new people they are spending time with? Help your child choose the influences in their lives.
Talk to your teen about avoiding dangerous situations, like riding in a car with someone who has been drinking. Set clear expectations with your teen about not attending parties where alcohol will be present, and communicate to the parents of your teen’s friends your policies on not allowing alcohol use.
Be clear and direct with your teen (and resist the urge to lecture): “I do not want you to drink or use drugs.” Establish house rules, including about alcohol and drug use, and enforce the rules you set. Be explicit about how many times you want your child to check in with you when they’re away from home. If your teen drives, tell them drinking any amount of alcohol and driving is not okay. Consider setting a contract about drug and alcohol use, with clear consequences (like forfeiting their driving privileges) if the contract is broken.
Teens are eager to stretch their legs and experience freedom, and you can encourage their independence… while also setting appropriate limits. Be clear about your expectations to avoid exasperating your teen.
A history of social or emotional problems, alcoholism in the family, depression, past traumatic events, and other serious emotional problems all contribute to increased potential misuse of drugs and alcohol.
Pay attention to how the stress of major life transitions—such as graduation, moving from middle school to high school, starting a new job, or getting a driver’s license—affect your teen.
Children and teens learn by example. If you’ve been drinking, don’t drive. If you drink, do so in moderation. Don’t use illicit drugs, and take prescription drugs as directed. Get help if you feel you may have an alcohol or substance use problem.
It’s tempting to think that talking to your child about drugs and alcohol can be handled in a one-time “drug talk.” However, when we keep the lines of communication open with our kids and allow the subject to surface and resurface organically, it provides more opportunities to reinforce expectations with your teen.
There’s no doubt about it, teens will encounter questions and temptations around drug and alcohol use. You can help your child make wise choices. Learn more about preventing student athlete substance misuse and where you can go to seek help if you think you or your child may need help. Don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help.