Most parents worry about their children getting mixed up with the wrong crowd and using drugs or binge drinking. But, they don’t really know how to keep their kids away from negative influences.
Putting teens in a bubble until they’ve graduated from high school isn’t realistic, so what should you do?
Communication is the key. Talking to your kids from an early age about the dangers of drugs and alcohol is how you can help protect your teen, says University of Miami Health System’s Dr. Nicole Mavrides.
“Start talking about the things that worry you like drug and alcohol use early on,” the child psychiatry expert recommends. “Do it while they are in middle school or even elementary school – that way they aren’t surprised when they enter high school.”
If you don’t, she warns, your child may get bad information from their friends.
How you talk to your child matters
Have you ever seen a kid’s eyes glaze over when they’re being lectured?
Having an open dialogue will create a positive environment where your child feels free to talk to you, says the Partnership for Drug Free Kids. This conversation will evolve as your child gets older. For instance, they recommend not focusing on long-term consequences when talking to younger kids. Instead of telling them that they might get cancer if they smoke, describing how tobacco can make their breath stink or their teeth yellow can be enough to make them think smoking is gross.
Being honest with your child is also extremely important. Telling your child that you tried drugs can be very uncomfortable, but its best to tell your child the truth if they ask, says Dr. Mavrides. “Especially if it was a bad experience,” she says.
Use [your experience] as a cautionary tale.
As your child enters adolescence, use conversation tactics that convey that you are trying to understand them and not accuse them. If they are scared to get in trouble, they will just lie and not come to you when they have questions. Keeping the lines of communication open are super important, adds Dr. Mavrides. “Telling parents to focus on safety and honesty instead of punishment and fear can be helpful.”
It’s not just about the “drug talk”
Raising a child with high self esteem and who is comfortable being themselves is just as vital to protecting them from drugs and alcohol as is teaching (and modeling) self-control and positive problem-solving skills.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends encouraging your child daily by:
- Showing your child they are important by attending their extra-curricular activities and remembering what they tell you.
- Assuring them they are capable by talking to them about their successes, especially if they overcame a problem.
- Conveying to them that they have good ideas by asking their opinion and involving them in solving family problems.
They might still experiment
Even if you do everything right, your teen may still try drugs or alcohol but that doesn’t mean they will become addicts. “I speak to a lot of kids who think that using every once-in-a-while isn’t an issue,” says Dr. Mavrides. “I think in some ways that’s also be a big deal.”
This is when being able to communicate with your teen is vital. If your child feels comfortable telling you when they try drugs or alcohol, then you can talk to them openly about the negative effects of drug abuse.
Your teen also needs to know that they can come to you if they need help or find themselves in an unsafe situation and that they don’t have to worry about you being angry at them at that time.
“This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t talk to them or clarify rules,” adds Dr. Mavrides. “Sit down with your child later and use it as an opportunity to discuss what they did right and what they did wrong, and what they should do next time.”
Natasha Bright is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News. Her writing has also been featured on the Huffington Post and Scary Mommy websites.