Adolescence is the quintessential age for drug experimentation and drinking. Yet, it doesn’t have to be. Even if your child is experimenting now, the following tips can help curb further substance use. The following suggestions are meant to build a parent-teen relationship of trust, honesty, and respect.
1. Be a good listener. Most teens want to be heard and understood. They want to know that what they say, the experiences they’re having, and the thoughts they are thinking matter. As caregivers you can provide this to your teens. You can do this by listening in a deep way. Watch your teen’s body language. Listen for what he or she is communicating underneath the words. Then, when you respond, repeat back to your teen what you heard in your own words. This process strengthens trust and respect. Your teen will likely feel heard and understood. Your teen may be more willing to discuss in more detail his or her life, thoughts, desires, needs, and challenges. And, more importantly, he or she will also be more open to hear what you have to say. By building this kind of respect, you can facilitate your child feeling comfortable bringing problems or questions to you.
2. Be available to discuss sensitive subjects. The above tip can facilitate communicating to your teens and younger children that you are available to discuss what might feel uncomfortable to them. Children need to know they can rely on you for support, encouragement, validation, and accurate information about drugs and drinking. When a teen feels safe in relationships with his family, especially his parents, he or she feels secure enough to explore the world around him or her, and this can include exploring sensitive subjects. When there’s safety in relationships and in communication between two people, children will feel comfortable in talking about sensitive subjects.
3. Be a good role model. Of course, most children and teens are looking at their parents, even unconsciously, with regard to their behavior, choices, and attitudes. You can let your life be an example of sobriety and living a full and meaningful life without drugs and alcohol. Your own habits and attitudes about tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs make a big impression on your child. Parents, you can empower your children to be strong, resourceful, and self-reliant through your own example.
4. Be straight on tough topics. As a parent, you should communicate your expectations, guidelines, and boundaries, especially around drug and alcohol use. Give clear, specific messages when talking about drugs of any kind, so your teen knows exactly what is expected of him. Doing so will create a clear structure. In fact, children and adolescents need to have firm boundaries to facilitate the development of a child’s sense of self. Knowing what’s expected of them helps them know right from wrong, and this is particularly true for drinking and drug use.
5. Be media-savvy. Today, teens and adults alike tend to have less sunshine and more computer light, less time with family and more time with friends and strangers. There seems to be a relationship between the growing urbanization of the world and the increase of anxiety and depression among teens. For this reason, it’s important to limit the use of the computer, television, and social media. Many risks are born out of spending too much time online, such as cyber bullying, addiction, and information that can easily pressure teens in doing what they might not otherwise do. Furthermore, you can read, watch TV, and go to the movies with your child in order to differentiate the often glorified images of drug use compared to the realistic dangers of using drugs and alcohol.
Although experimenting with drugs is common during adolescence, many teens move through this stage of life knowing the associated dangers and stay away from drugs and alcohol. This isn’t true for all teens, but the above tips can facilitate keeping your children away from drug use and drinking.