When a parent talks to their teenager regularly about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, they lessen the chance of their child using drugs by 42%. However, only 25% of teens report on actually having these conversations with their parents.
Preventing Drug Use – Before Age 8
You can start when your kids are very young. Use opportunities, such as when giving vitamins, antibiotics or other necessary medications, to talk to your kids about responsible drug use. If you and your child see someone on the street or someone on TV smoking cigarettes or other drugs, this is a good opportunity to explain the dangerous and addictive nature of drugs to your child.
Drug education doesn’t have to be frightening, but it can be honest, so that young children understand why they see adults engage in behaviors their parents have warned them against.
Encourage your children to be healthy in other ways – such as reinforcing exercise and good nutrition. Help them understand what it means to feel healthy and explain the negative consequences of drugs on our bodies. Building healthy levels of self-esteem in your children is another vital step in helping them make their own decisions about drugs, instead of being swayed by peers. Teach your child the importance of standing up for himself or herself from a young age, help them feel confident in their own decision-making skills by positively reinforcing good decision-making.
Allow young children small moments of independent decision making, such as picking out their outfits or meals, to prepare them for bigger decisions in the future.
Preventing Drug Use – Ages 8 – 13
Children this age are old enough for more direct discussions on the dangers of drugs. Find out if your child’s elementary or middle school has an anti-drug program, and, if so, go over the materials with your child together. This is a critical age – many young people begin sampling with drugs around middle school. Make sure there are clear rules about drug use in the household.
If you have multiple children, or if your child is close to cousins or other relatives, getting the older kids involved in helping the younger ones stay away from drugs and alcohol may help prevent drug use in both groups. The older kids can be encouraged to set a positive example, giving them an extra reason to resist drug use. Younger siblings and cousins often look up to their older relatives a great deal, and they may listen to them when they would not listen to a parent.
Preventing Drug Use – Ages 14 and beyond
By this age, your child may know kids at school who are experimenting with drugs, and he or she may have been approached or invited to join in. Encourage your child to discuss these situations with you. If you find out your child did join in, try to discuss the situation calmly, and make sure your child knows the medical dangers associated with that particular drug.
The best ways to prevent drug abuse are to encourage an open dialogue with your child but also set limits and remain clear about your position on drug use. Give your child increasing levels of merited trust as he or she grows older, but remain an active presence in their life. Show your concern by always knowing where you child is, developing an active interest in their friends and relationships, and keeping up with their grades and teachers. This helps show your child that you’re interested and on guard for them, and it will help you to immediately detect changes in their habits and behaviors.
Discussing Current Drug Use
If you think your child or teen may already be abusing drugs or alcohol, remember to keep an open approach in discussions. Teens may be less likely to open up if they feel like they’re “in trouble.” Instead, make it understood that you’re trying to keep your child out of medical or legal trouble – you’re their ally.
If your child opens up to you about his or her own drug use, show appreciation for their honesty and work together to understand why they made that decision. Talk to your child about how they felt before and after taking drugs and how likely they are to want to repeat the experience. Some teens use drugs as a form of “self medication” for depression or anxiety. If this is the case, a medical professional or counselor can help you and your child find the best options for dealing with these issues in a healthy manner.