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Prevention for Preteens

Middle school can be a difficult time for many students. It's the intersection of puberty and social acceptance, which can be very difficult to navigate. A lot of drug and alcohol prevention strategies for this age range come in the form of curriculum in the school setting but there are a lot of things parents can do to continue building a foundation for a drug-free life. This is a good time to discuss risk and protective factors.

Risk and protective factors are conditions in peoples' lives that make them more or less likely to use alcohol, tobacco or other drugs and they play a hugely important role in successful prevention strategies. It's often easy for people to focus too much on risk factors while ignoring some of the powerful protective factors. Negative attitudes or behaviors, a family history of abuse, poor grades, etc. are hard to ignore. And you shouldn't! But it's also important to consider how you can help build and boost protective factors as well - social coping skills, ability to stand up for one's beliefs and attitudes, positive social orientation, family unity, and parental supervision are all examples.

Consider what risk and protective factors play a role in your child's life. We all have a collection of both risk and protective factors and they are different for each person so if you're parenting more than one child, consider how they may be different. Much of this work as a parent can be done behind the scenes - promoting family closeness or ensuring that there is enough parental supervision for example, but it is also important to have meaningful conversations with your teen.


Themes of Prevention with Preteens

  • Family Involvement - secure, loving relationships are still HUGE factors in developing the necessary emotional and social milestones at this age.

  • Balance Addressing Risk Factors with Boosting Protective Factors

  • Self Esteem and Confidence - kids want to fit in so by building their confidence, they may be less likely to feel pressure towards the wrong crowd or choices.

  • Curriculum - make sure they're learning about drugs, alcohol and mental health in their Health Class

SCENARIO                                                                                      WHAT TO SAY

Partnership with Drug-Free Kids outlined these scenarios:

Your child is just starting middle school and you know

that eventually, he will be offered drugs and alcohol.

You find out that kids are selling prescription drugs at

your child’s school. Your child hasn’t mentioned it and

you want to get the conversation about it started.

Your child’s favorite celebrity—the one he or she really

looks up to—has been named in a drug scandal

I know we talked about drinking and drugs when you were younger, but now is when they’re probably going to be an issue. I’m guessing you’ll at least hear about kids who are experimenting. I just want you to remember that I’m here for you and the best thing you can do is just talk to me about the stuff you hear or see. Don’t think there’s anything I can’t handle or that you can’t talk about with me, okay?”

Hey, you probably know that parents talk to each other and find things out about what’s going on at school. I heard there are kids selling pills – prescriptions that either they are taking or someone in their family takes. Have you heard about kids doing this?” Let him know that in the future, he can always blame you to get out of a bad situation. Say, “If you’re ever offered drugs at school, tell that person, “My mother would kill me if I took that and then she wouldn’t let me play baseball.”

Being in the public eye puts a ton of pressure on people, and many turn to drugs because they think drugs will relieve that stress. The thing is, when a person uses drugs and alcohol—especially a young person because he’s still growing—it changes how his brain works and makes him do really stupid things. Most people who use drugs and alcohol need a lot of help to get better. I hope the celebrity has a good doctor and friends and family members to help him/her.

Tips for Talking with your Preteen


  • Make sure your child knows your rules — and that you’ll enforce the consequences if rules are broken. Research shows that kids are less likely to use tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs if their parents have established a pattern of setting clear rules and consequences for breaking those rules.

  • Kids who don’t know what to say when someone offers them drugs are more likely to give in to peer pressure. Let her know that she can always use you as an excuse and say: “No, my mom [or dad, aunt, etc.] will kill me if I smoke a cigarette.”

  • Feelings of insecurity, doubt and pressure may creep in during puberty. Offset those feelings with a lot of positive comments about who he is as an individual — and not just when he brings home an A.

  • Preteens aren’t concerned with future problems that might result from experimentation with tobacco, alcohol or other drugs, but they are concerned about their appearance — sometimes to the point of obsession. Tell them about the smelly hair and ashtray breath caused by cigarettes.

  • Get to know your child’s friends — and their friends’ parents. Check in by phone or a visit once in awhile to make sure they are on the same page with prohibiting drug or alcohol use, particularly when their home is to be used for a party or sleepover.

  • Help children separate reality from fantasy. Watch TV and movies with them and ask lots of questions to reinforce the distinction between the two. Remember to include advertising in your discussions, as those messages are especially powerful.


- Source of Scenarios & Tips: Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

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