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Regardless if you have your children safely ensconced in a small private school setting or they are in a large public middle or high school, there is no question that they will at some point be exposed to alcohol and drugs. As the brain develops through their teen years, they can become more self confident and determined to make their own decisions, reliant on the approval of their peers and just more unpredictable. Experts agree that one of the important keys to preventing risky behavior is the level of influence and involvement you as a parent have in their life. Studies repeatedly show that kids admit that the more they learn about the risks of drug and alcohol use at home, the less likely they are to try them.

So it’s important to keep the lines of communication open at all times. This means listening to the details of their day and making time to enjoy activities with them when you are completely focused. It also means that if you do hear things that upset you, you need to keep your cool. If you respond with anger or threats, it will most likely cause your child to retreat and clam up. As early as middle school, start the conversation and explain clearly and calmly that it’s not okay to drink or take drugs. They may not understand what the big deal is, especially if they have seen you and other role models having an alcoholic beverage. Here are some discussion points to help you along in the ongoing conversation you will need to revisit every once in a while throughout their teen years:

  • Alcohol affects teenagers differently than it does adults. Starting to drink at a young age can contribute to a life long addiction as the brain is still maturing.
  • Alcohol and marijuana impair physical coordination, slow down reaction time, and can impair vision. Marijuana can even cause hallucinations.
  • Drinking takes away inhibitions and impairs judgment. This combination can lead to dangerous behavior like drunk driving and unprotected sex and/or embarrassing behavior that might be documented on social media sites in today’s environment. According to a 2013 Kaplan Test Prep study, nearly 31 percent of college admissions officers reported they looked up an applicant on social media during the review process.
  • It’s illegal. The drinking age in this country is 21. If the authorities catch you it can result in fines, community service, mandatory drug and alcohol education classes and a police record.
  • Grades and extra curricular activities will suffer. Teens who drink or take drugs often have trouble focusing on schoolwork. They fall behind, put off responsibilities and start a downward spiral.

A common question that often comes up or should be brought up is what he or she should do if in a situation when others are drinking or doing drugs. You can brainstorm different scenarios and solutions to get them to buy in. One way your child can respond is to put the blame back on you by saying that they can’t partake because their parents randomly alcohol and/or drug test them. Some high schools even offer this program so that kids have a way out. Lastly, its always good to reiterate that you will pick them up at any time, from any location if they find themselves in a difficult situation, and you promise that you won’t pull right up in front of everyone. They can walk out and down the block to meet you. In the end, it’s your support and intervention that will help them navigate through these tricky teen years.