Article written by Chloe Nicosia
Substance abuse is a frightening thing for parents, thanks to the prevalence of both illicit and prescription drugs. While all young people are at some risk for substance abuse, some preteens and teenagers have a higher risk for developing a problem with drugs. When parents understand risk factors, they can focus their efforts on remaining connected with adolescents to help reduce the possibility of drug use. Even a child with a high risk for engaging in substance abuse does not need to have this destiny.
Family history is one of the biggest factors that predicts substance abuse in young people. A parent with a drug or alcohol addiction raises the risk significantly that their children will develop similar issues. A child with a behavioral disorder such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or a mental illness such as depression has a higher risk for developing a drug problem. Similarly, a child with problems controlling impulses may also be at an elevated risk for developing substance abuse problems. Finally, when a trauma or series of traumatic events occurs, this can set the stage for using drugs to cope.
Create a Positive Environment
While it’s impossible to erase risks when they are present, parents can create a positive environment to offset the risks. Strong family bonds between parents and children can serve as the foundation for happiness and health for all family members. An open and affirming relationship between a parent and a child helps a youngster feel accepted and comfortable confiding in the parent. This bond is often instrumental in helping kids avoid drugs.
Model Good Behavior
The example set by parents is highly influential with youngsters. If parents abuse alcohol or drugs, children are more likely to follow this example. It can be especially confusing for children if a parent condemns drug abuse but drinks to excess, for instance. Children are often very attuned to this type of hypocrisy, and they may respond by specifically choosing to abuse drugs or alcohol because of the parent’s example. When parents want to help ensure that children choose not to misuse drugs and alcohol, they should strive to model the behavior they want in their children.
Talk to Teens Early
Waiting to speak with children about drugs and alcohol can often be a serious mistake. By the time a child reaches the preteen period, between ages 8 and 12, the youngster has already encountered a significant amount of negative influence regarding drugs. When parents establish an early dialogue about drugs and the associated dangers, these conversations help shape a child’s attitudes about drugs. Waiting to discuss drugs until a child has already encountered negative attitudes that can potentially sway a child toward drugs could be too late. By this time, a parent will be fighting against the negative influences, which is much more difficult than instilling positive messages from young childhood. Open and early communication equips a child to make positive choices against drugs.
Establish Rules and Consequences
Clear and established rules and consequences are another effective tool for parents seeking to prevent substance abuse. Create a set of clear expectations for youngsters, such as not using drugs, not spending time with people who use drugs, not getting in a vehicle with someone who has been using, and more. With each expectation, parents must also create connected consequences. For example, if a child is found to have been riding in a car driven by someone who has used drugs or alcohol, the consequence might be grounding or the loss of phone privileges for a period of time. The final part of this process involves following through. If a child breaks a rule, always follow through with the connected consequence. Children learn effectively with clear boundaries and established consequences that they know will always occur. This stability is of paramount importance when raising children of all ages.