Parent Prevention Tips
Talk with your children about alcohol and other drugs early and often.
By talking about substance use early, you cut the chances of their using in half. Start discussing the topic before they attend school. With preschoolers, emphasize healthy nutrition, safety and awareness of poisons and medicines. As your child gets older, talk about why people use drugs and the harm that drugs and underage drinking can cause. Most importantly, tell them that you will be upset if they ever use drugs or drink when they're underage, and that you trust them never to try.
Create family rituals, traditions and special time together.
Spending time together in ways that make him or her feel like a special part of your family fosters your son's or daughter's sense of being lovable, capable and important. Involve your children in family decisions, creating traditions and eating dinner as a family. The closer that they feel to their parents and the more that they bond with family, the less likely it is that kids will be willing to try risky behavior, including drug and alcohol use.
Get involved in your child's education and help him/her succeed at school.
Your personal involvement in your child's education and working with the school communicates the importance you place on education. This is important because doing well at school and feeling that they belong there helps to protect youth from drug and alcohol use. It is important for children to experience success, whether it is in the form of good grades, music, athletics or clubs. They don't have to get top grades or be a star quarterback to feel successful. In fact, too much pressure to succeed can result in feelings of inadequacy and increase the risk of substance use. Make sure to find an avenue of success that fits your child.
Set and enforce family rules.
Set realistic family rules and hold to them. One of the worst things a parent can do is to establish rules and not enforce them; children do not then feel protected. Parents' consistency in influencing their child's behavior decreases the risk of drug and alcohol use.
Take advantage of "teachable moments".
Newspapers are full of the consequences of alcohol and drug abuse. Take your examples right off the front page. Ask your child if she heard about the mother who used drugs and was arrested. Who will take care of her baby now? Did she make a good decision when she used drugs?
Watch TV with your children and ask them what they think. Do the programs and advertising make drug use look acceptable and glamorous, or do they show its down side? When you see a news item involving drug use, point out the story's full implications to families and all of society: Drug addiction can cause or aggravate many tragedies involving child neglect and abuse, family violence, rape, HIV transmission, teenage suicide and pregnancy. Whenever you see an anti-drug commercial on TV, use it as an opening to talk with your children about drugs. Ask them what they think about the commercial.
If you have a relative or family friend who has suffered the consequences of drug or alcohol addiction, discuss how addiction develops. Emphasize the fact that individuals with a family history of addiction are not the only ones at risk. The earlier in life a person begins experimenting with drug and alcohol use, the more likely it is that he will become addicted.
What Else Can I Do?
Beyond anything you may do or say specifically regarding alcohol and drugs remember that there are many more general parenting behaviors that also help to prevent substance abuse. Think of these as a set of strategies to "parent for prevention." If your child has developed a strong foundation in terms of self-esteem and plans for the future, avoiding alcohol and drugs use will become a logical and appealing choice. Your good parenting will then serve to reinforce this choice.
- Strive for a greater number of pleasant than unpleasant interactions with your child. All families with teens experience conflict from time to time, but get help if the conflict becomes overwhelming.
- Ask about your son or daughter's opinions and offer him or her real decision-making opportunities.
- Know where your teen is at all times and ensure a safe after-school environment. For college students, encourage choices that minimize risk (for example, it may be better to commute from home or live on campus than to live off-campus).
- For high-schoolers, monitor online and cell phone activity and do periodic "honesty checks" (e.g., check your child's backpack, verify his/her location, look at his/her Facebook page).
- Set realistic expectations for life goals and work together to help your son or daughter reach them.
- Identify your child's strengths and talents, and make sure s/he has opportunities to use them.
- Encourage extracurricular activities and constructive use of free time, particularly in college, when free time typically increases.
- Help your teen find positive ways to fit in and feel "cool."
- Address any behavioral or mental health concerns (anxiety, depression, bullying) as soon as possible.
- Teach and model healthy skills for coping with stress, particularly during school transitions and the first year of college.
- Help your son or daughter succeed at school, not only in terms of academics, but also in terms of connecting to positive adults and peers.
- Before your son or daughter goes to college, work together on ideas for making new friends and minimizing social anxiety.
- During the first year of college, check in regarding the adjustment to new academic expectations and make sure your child knows how to access academic help.
- Identify school or campus activities and clubs that your son or daughter might enjoy.
- If your son or daughter is going away to college, encourage an appropriate level of freedom, but also plan in advance some ways in which you will try to stay connected.