By Anna Hicks
When they’re little, keeping your kids drug and alcohol free is easy because you have total (well, mostly) control over those little lives. As they grow up, you lose some of that control as you grant your kids more and more freedom. By the time they’re teenagers, as hard as this may be to read, the amount of control you have is almost gone. That’s scary for a lot of parents, especially given how attitudes towards drinking and drug experimentation have changed.
Accepting that things have changed is the first step toward keeping your kids off of drugs and away from alcohol. If you react with horror and launch into a lecture about how they’re going to become alcoholics and drug addicts when your kids tell you that their friend gave them a sip of beer or told them that smoking pot isn’t a big deal they aren’t ever going to tell you if someone encourages them to try something harder or more dangerous.
Here are some of the other things you can do to keep your kids away from drugs and drinking:
Talk to Them About Addiction
This means more than simply telling them that “drugs are bad.” Explain that even drugs that seem harmless, like marijuana, alcohol and even caffeine, can be addictive. Source: http://www.
Talk about what addiction looks like and what it might feel like. Teach them what to look out for in themselves and encourage them to talk to you if they notice any symptoms of addiction. Try to do your best to be neutral here. Obviously you don’t want to condone experimentation, but you also don’t want to accidentally encourage it by being too draconian during your conversation.
Keep Your Teens Busy
Obviously your kids are too old now for play dates and distraction via coloring book or television show. Still, there are ways to keep your kids busy so that they simply won’t have time to get bored and be tempted to try things you wouldn’t approve of. For example, assigning chores around the house is a good way to keep kids busy and teach them about responsibility.
You can also require that your older kids get jobs, at least during the summer months when they aren’t being occupied by school work and extracurriculars. This is a great way to teach your kids about money, budgeting and saving (for example, requiring that a certain percentage of every paycheck go toward a college fund).
Encouraging participation in sports and getting regular exercise is also important. Sports are a great way for kids to stay in shape, practice teamwork, etc. Plus, regular exercise reduces addictive behaviors and improves mental health!
Give Them a Script
Giving them a script to use when dealing with those situations is far more helpful than insisting that they just say no or simply walk away. Role play some situations with them so that they have the chance to practice their scripts and encourage them to find ways to make the script feel more natural.
To this end, you can always encourage your kids to put the blame for their abstinence squarely on your shoulders. “My parents will kill me” tends to go a lot farther with teens than “I just don’t want to.”
Stay involved in your kids lives! Ask them about their friends, their schoolwork, their summer jobs, their hobbies, etc. Show genuine interest in their lives–what they’re doing, thinking, and feeling. Remember the details they share with you. When your kids know that you are paying attention, they will be less tempted to try to slip stuff past you.
Guidelines and Rules are Important
It is important that your teens know exactly what you expect from them and what the consequences will be of failing to live up to those expectations. Having rules that are set in stone, like curfews, not getting high or drunk, maintaining certain GPAs, etc isn’t limiting (no matter what your teens may say). It gives them structure, which they need just as much as they did when they were little. Rules, believe it or not, can be comforting (even if they are also annoying).
Finally: cut yourself some slack and leave room to make changes. It’s okay to adjust your rules and expectations. Nobody is ever perfect all the time. Still, these tips are a good start for helping your kids resist the urge to experiment with drugs and drinking.