Teens who do not use alcohol, cigarettes, and other drugs are unlikely to use them as adults. Efforts to prevent teen substance abuse needs to begin early in a child’s life with drug education, encouragement of healthy behaviors, and good family communication.
Even the best of intentions and efforts may not prevent substance use by your child, but they will will give your child a greater chance of avoiding the problem.
- Be a role model. As a parent, your attitude toward alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs is one of the greatest influences on whether your child will abuse substances. Being a good role model is an excellent way to show your child and teen how to act responsibly.
- Share your beliefs. Children need to know what their parents believe about issues that are important. Even though they may not act like it, most children are greatly influenced by what their parents tell them. Talk with them about the effects of substances on physical growth, emotional development, school performance, and health. If you have a family history of substance use problems, talk with your teen about the increased risk for alcohol and drug use problems.
- Stay connected. Staying involved may be difficult during the teen years, because teens usually want privacy and independence. Provide adequate supervision, know their friends, and know where they are at all times. Set times when the family is expected to be together, such as at mealtimes. Plan family outings or other family fun activities. Let them know that they are valued and contribute to the family.
- Discipline. Extremes of discipline are a risk factor for substance abuse. Set reasonable consequences for unacceptable behavior and consistently carry them out. Praise accomplishments and expect them to follow the household rules.
- Help your kids develop tools they can use to get out of alcohol or drug-related situations. Let them know they can use you as an excuse: “My mom would kill me if I drank a beer!”
- Encourage activities. Keep them busy and engaged emotionally with meaningful activities, such as sports, church, or other group involvement. Children and teens who feel good about themselves are less likely to use alcohol and drugs.
- Be your kids’ greatest fan. Compliment them on all of their efforts, the strength of their character, and their individuality. Emphasize the things your children do right instead of only focusing on what’s wrong.
- Be street smart. Don’t rely only on your own experiences or what you have heard. Educate yourself about the substances commonly abused. There is a lot to learn, because so many substances are being used today, and none are totally harmless. Find out how the drugs work, their street names, signs of being under the influence, what indicates overdose and what to do, and how they affect growth and development.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR CHILD’S SCHOOL
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- What does the school do to keep tobacco, alcohol and drugs off school premises?
- What education and prevention programs are offered children in what grades – is it enough to make a difference?
- Are teachers and other staff trained to spot signs of drug abuse and know how to respond?
- Are teachers and other staff aware of circumstances that place children at higher risk of substance abuse, such as learning disabilities, discipline problems, eating disorders, depression and anxiety, and frequent mobility from school to school? If so, does the school intervene early?
- What does the school do if it suspects a child may be smoking, drinking or using drugs? Does the school tell the child’s parents?
- Does the school screen or test for substance use? If so, under what circumstances?
- If a substance abuse problem is identified in a child, what help does the school provide–either directly or by referral?
- What action does the school take if a child is caught possessing or using alcohol, cigarettes or drugs–or selling drugs?
- Does the school engage parents, students and community organizations in substance abuse prevention?
- What are the substance use policies for teachers and other school staff?
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