Parents Preventing Drug Abuse: 11 Ways to Help Your Teens Steer Clear of Drugs

The United Nations has declared June 26th as the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Worldwide substance abuse has an impact on society, economy and health. The UN works to raise awareness about illicit drug trafficking as an international problem and encourages communities to promote recovery programs and to empower youth to face the challenges of life without using drugs.

Raise Awareness in Your Home

If you are a parent, it’s a good idea to raise awareness about drugs with your own children. Start when your children are in grade school and continue throughout their teen years. Talk often to your children about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Tell them how these substances can affect their bodies and their brains, and how that has an impact on other parts of their lives, such as learning, health, and sports performance. Discuss the legal consequences of drug use, and how that can affect the rest of their lives.

Practice Refusals

Talk to you children about peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol. Tell them it’s not true that “everyone does it.” Explain that it’s not necessary to risk their own lives and health just to fit in or be accepted by a group. True friends will not try to force them to do something that they don’t want to do. Teach you teens that there are ways to refuse drugs and still “save face.” Discuss how they might say no, and practice until it feels right to them. They could say something like, “I’m just not into it.” “I don’t do that stuff.” “I know my parents will catch me.” “My sports team does drug testing.” Or they could just make an excuse to leave.

Teach Teens How to Make an Exit

Be sure your teens understand that if they ever find themselves in a situation where they do not feel safe, you will get them out. Whether drugs and alcohol are being used, or there is some other risky behavior, your teens need to know that they can call or text you, and you will go get them, or you will arrange for a ride home. No questions asked. Some parents develop a code word their teens can text to them. Others have a code phrase that teens can say when they call. This way, teens are not embarrassed in front of their peers, but they still get out of an unsafe situation. You want your teens to see you as their safety net.

Set Clear Guidelines

Parents need to consider in advance, and discuss with each other, what their approach will be for drug, alcohol and tobacco use. Make your teen aware of the rules you have set, and assure them there will be consequences for breaking the rules. The exact consequence may vary with the situation, but you can warn your teens that discipline will involve parts of their lives such as being grounded, forfeiting allowance, and losing driving privileges. Try to discipline fairly and consistently. It’s never fun being the heavy, and enforcing the rules, but it’s our job as parents to teach and protect our children. Teens need to know that there will be consequences at home when they drink or take drugs.

Keep Communicating

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say to teens or how to say it. It’s best to ask open-ended questions, so they can’t just answer with one word. For example, if you ask, “How was school today?” They answer, “Fine.” Ask instead, “What did you learn today in school?” “Did anything interesting happen today?” “What was the best and worst part of your day?” Tell your teens often that you love them, that you care about them, that you want them to be safe and healthy and live a good life. Tell them they can talk to you about any of their problems.

Teens usually open up and talk more when you are both involved in an activity, rather than just sitting and looking at each other. Do things together with your teen that you can both enjoy, and talk while you’re involved in the activity. Try to remember not to be judgmental or jump in with criticisms when your teens talk. If they say something that is a cause for concern, let them finish their discussion first, and then talk about the issue that caused concern. Make your conversations a dialogue, not a lecture.

Comment on their good qualities – “I like the way you sing.” “You have a great sense of style in how you dress.” “You’re really good at that.” Praise them for their accomplishments and when they make good choices. Don’t communicate only when you have a complaint or criticism. Teens with strong self-esteem are less likely to succumb to peer pressure

Use the Socratic Method

The Greek philosopher, Socrates, taught his students by asking them a series of questions that led them to realize the lesson on their own. You might try this method with your teens. For example, if your teen talks about someone they know who drove home after getting drunk at a party, ask your teens a series of questions. What do you think he should have done instead? What would have happened if that teen had been arrested? How would that change his life? What if he had been in an accident? How do you think he would feel if he had injured or killed someone in an accident?

Set an Example

It is true that actions speak louder than words. Teens watch their parents and how they handle situations with alcohol or drugs. Consider your own use of alcohol, drugs or tobacco and the effects they have on your health and on your family. Parents can demonstrate responsible behavior by designating a sober driver or getting a safe ride home, rather than driving after they’ve been drinking. If parents use drugs recreationally, they need to consider the message that sends to their teens.

Give Your Teen Options

Teens who are involved in sports or other school activities are less likely to get involved with drugs. Encourage your teen to participate in healthy activities. Encourage them to join clubs at school, to play sports, or do volunteer work. Help them to find hobbies they like. Find activities in your community that they might enjoy, such as dance or art class, martial arts, chess club. Let them know you will support them and give them a ride to these activities.

Get Involved in Their Lives

Get to know your teen’s friends. Go to their school events and sports games. Support their interests in hobbies. Find activities that you and your teens can enjoy together. Go shopping or to the movies together. Enjoy outdoor activities – hiking, biking, camping. Or enjoy indoor activities – video games, cooking, art projects. Ask them to share their interests with you. Share the things you enjoy.

Keep Watch

Even though you may not think your teen would use drugs or drink. keep an eye out for signs that they are. If you develop the practice of checking on your teen when she comes home, she will know that she is likely to get caught if she has been drinking or using drugs. Look at how your teen acts and talks. Does she smell like booze or pot? Is she acting unusually hyper or sluggish or disoriented? Teens need to know that they have to pass the “parent check” when they get home. It’s not a question of trust. If teens know you will check on them, they know you care, and they know you’re aware. If they do start to use drugs, it’s better to catch it and address it as soon as possible. If they don’t use drugs, you can praise them on making good decisions and acting responsibly.

Get Help When Needed

Even when parents do their best to keep their teens from drinking or taking drugs, teens still drink and take drugs. If your teen has repeatedly been caught using drugs or alcohol, or you suspect your teen may even be addicted, then it’s time to reach out for professional help. Teens may need help from a therapist, an addiction support program, or rehab center. In some cases, it’s helpful to remove teens from the negative influences in their environment and prevent their access to drugs by sending them to a therapeutic boarding school. These facilities offer a safe place where teens can receive therapy to help them with their substance abuse issues and they can continue their schooling. Some therapeutic boarding schools also offer healthy outdoor activities that help teens to experience ways to have fun that don’t involve drugs or alcohol.

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