When it comes to talking to children about alcohol and drugs, parents are often uneasy about what to say, leading many to put off or avoid the subject entirely. But, as parents, we have far more influence than we think and research has shown that kids who have conversations with their parents about the dangers of alcohol and drug use are 50% less likely to use alcohol and drugs than those who don’t have such conversations. It can be challenging to develop the communication skills needed to talk effectively with our children about drinking and drugs, but the rewards will easily equal the effort we put into it.
Don’t miss the opportunity . . . if we don’t talk with them, our children will get their information about alcohol and drugs from other sources (friends and acquaintances, entertainment media, the Internet) that not only misrepresent, and often dismiss, the potential negative impact of alcohol and drugs but may actually glorify dangerous, illegal behavior.
When raising a teenager, it is natural to feel powerless and unable to alter their choices. So how do we, as parents, get the right messages to our kids?
Here are six strategies–supported by research–to help reduce the chances that your child will develop a drug or alcohol problem:
- Build a warm and supportive environment with your child. Children who have a nurturing relationship with their parent(s) are less likely to use drugs or alcohol. It is believed that this stems from both a desire to please and aversion to disappoint, which is heightened by close relationships.
- Be a good role model when it comes to drinking, taking medication and handling stress. Research shows that when it comes to alcohol and other drugs, children are likely to model their parents’ behavior–both healthy and unhealthy ones. What they see you do has much more impact than what they hear you say.
- Know your child’s risk level. Several decades of research show that some teens are at a higher risk of developing a substance abuse problem than other teens. In addition, it has been documented that addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a chronic, progressive disease that can be linked to family history and genetics. If you have a family history of addiction problems, be mindful of that as you would with any other serious, inheritable disease (such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer).
- Know your child’s friends and their parents. You, as the parent, set the foundation for your child’s interactions with his/her friends. As your child gets older, their friends play a more important role in the choices they make. What messages are their friends getting from their parents?
- Monitor, supervise, and set expectations and boundaries. Research has shown that when parents actively monitor, supervise and set boundaries, those teens have a lower incidence of using drugs or alcohol. Make it clear that you do not want or approve of your child drinking alcohol or using drugs. Talk about possible consequences–b oth legal and health/safety–
and be clear what will happen if rules and/or laws are broken.
- Have ongoing conversations about drugs and alcohol. Talking with your child can help build a healthy, supportive relationship (see #1 above). It can also help you and your child avoid or reduce conflict as situations arise during the teenage years because an ongoing dialogue already exists. Many parents have found that talking about alcohol and drugs with their children has built bridges rather than walls between them, and those parents have often proudly watched as those children learn to make healthy, mature decisions on their own.
Your words and actions are powerful! Use them to help keep your teens drug and alcohol-free.
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