Parenting a teenager can seem stressful in the moment. They are searching for their identity and look to their peers more and more for validation and support. However, it’s not the time for parents to give up or in because you don’t feel like you have control anymore. Research shows that teens are still strongly influenced by their families and the guidance and role modeling you provide is critical to the decisions that they make. It’s an incredibly important time to learn effective communication skills to help get your teen to listen and discuss what’s going on in their life. Trying to over-parent or “helicopter” or being too harsh might send them running in the opposite direction but asking the right questions, listening closely to the answers and giving appropriate direction can make a huge difference.
There are many issues that will come up during these crucial years, from problems with friends, grades, and boyfriends/girlfriends to drugs and alcohol. This is a time when kids can succumb to peer pressure to feel like they fit in and try high-risk activities. There are some things as a primary caregiver, older sister/brother, aunt/uncle or parent that you can do to support a drug and alcohol free adolescence.
1. Talk to your kids from an early age about alcohol and drug education. The younger the child is when they first try illegal substances, the harder it will be to quit later on.
2. Be clear about your stance on not using alcohol or drugs. What are your expectations? Explain risks and repercussions of use and abuse and what the consequences they will face at home will be.
3. Discuss a plan for avoidance. If your child isn’t comfortable just saying no, many parents find that the drug testing excuse helps. Teens can put the blame on their parents by telling their friends that they can’t drink or do drugs because their parents drug test at home. Drug test kits can be purchased at most pharmacies and chain stores.
4. Tell them they should never, ever drink and drive or get into a car with someone who has been drinking and here is why – according to the CDC in 2010, 10,228 people were killed in alcohol impaired driving accidents.
5. Listen closely to what your child is trying to say. Name their emotions to make sure you are hearing correctly. For example, “I can see that you are intimidated” or “I can see that you are frustrated with your group of friends right now”. Ask if this correct to keep the conversation going.
6. Validate their feelings. Try to avoid being judgmental, but tell them you understand what they are saying and then share your perspective.
7. If they make a mistake, don’t write it off to “kids will be kids”. Intervene right away and explain your reasons for concern. Let him/her tell their side of the story. Work together to come up with the appropriate way the child should have handled the situation.
8. Get to know other parents. Clarify that they are on the same page as you and will not tolerate drug or alcohol in their homes. Work together to help keep each other’s kids out of trouble.