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Prevention for Teenagers

Even though teens are on a mission to exert their independence and discover themselves, parents still have one of the greatest influences on decisions they make. Before we start this discussion, however, it's important to have a solid understanding of the teen brain as it relates to preventing them from risky decision making.

Hopefully, your teen has been introduced to prevention for a decade or more by this point so we are really building off years of a solid foundation. However, if that's not the case, jump right in. We truly believe it's never too early for prevention and it's always a good time to start.


Prevention Strategies You Can Adopt

  • Investigate! If your gut tells you something has changed with your son or daughter, chances are it probably has. Parental instincts are one of the best tools we have to identify when something seems off. Don't be afraid to investigate - ask questions, gather your intel by looking through their belongings to see if something doesn't seem right.

  • Model healthy behavior: We all have an equal opportunity here to model healthy behaviors. This starts a lot earlier than you’d probably expect. Kids notice our habits. They soak up what they see. For example, if you think about your own family events and holidays growing up, most people can think back and describe how adults used alcohol. Some of us might remember pretty early on noticing an uncle or grandparent have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. We develop our understanding of what’s the norm around substance use and relationships very early on. Use your familial experiences as examples your child can relate to.

  • Set clear expectations: Parents remain one of the heaviest influences in a teenager's decision to engage in risky behavior. Many studies prove that students are less likely to use alcohol and/or drugs if they know their parents disapprove. Don't leave any room for confusion. Say something like, "My expectation is that you won't use drugs like alcohol or marijuana [fill in the blank]. I have high standards because I know you'll meet them and do what's right."

  • Eat together as a family! According to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, kids and teens who share family dinners 3 or more times per week are less likely to be overweight, are more likely to eat healthy food, perform better academically, are less likely to engage in risky behaviors (drugs, alcohol, sexual activity), and have better relationships with their parents.

  • Maintain an arsenal of facts: Take time to learn about the latest research. Many parents fear having conversations with their kids about tough subjects because they don't have the baseline knowledge to have a meaningful conversation about it. Prepare to be peppered with questions. Do your research and understand what might mean something to your child. Make it personal. Drill home key points: Marijuana is habit-forming and may be addictive, it affects the brain and respiratory system, and might contribute to depression, anxiety, or cancer.

  • Tap into vested interests: Point out to teens that using drugs can jeopardize something they value or are working toward: a scholarship, their first-string playing time on the court, schoolwork, their first chair in band, a perfect SAT score, passing driver's ed, getting into college, getting a job, etc.. Take your pick and make it personal.

  • Eliminate access: Easy access to alcohol, drugs, privacy or too much alone time, etc. is a risk factor to engaging in negative or destructive behaviors so to lessen the risk, you can eliminate the access. One quick example of this is where you store prescription drugs. It is so common to keep them in places where you’d see them daily – by the plates or coffee, in the bathroom, etc. – but keeping them away from public access is so important. Most kids who access prescription drugs that aren’t their own, get them from family or family of friends.

  • Understand the difference between curiosity and coping: experimentation is often associated with teenagers but shouldn't be widely accepted as appropriate in all situations. Help your teen understand the risks of experimenting and how harmful it can be. Also, look for warning signs of a mental health disorder. In many cases, a mental health diagnosis accompanies a substance use disorder. Many teens using alcohol or drugs are trying to cope with anxiety, depression, pressure, etc. Seek help from the appropriate resource if you sense an issue.

  • Ask for help! Parenting is hard. Especially when you face a difficult situation. Don't be afraid to ask for help or information from others. You are not alone.

SCENARIO                                                                                      WHAT TO SAY

High school is going to be a ton of fun, and we want you to have a great time. But we also know there’s going to be some pressure to start drinking, abusing medicine, smoking pot or taking other drugs. A lot of people feel like this is just what high school kids do. But it’s actually not. Many high schoolers don’t drink or use drugs, which means it won’t make you weird to choose not to drink or use drugs, either.

You can still have a lot of fun if you don’t drink or use drugs. It is important to seek out these other kids who are making good choices, and be brave about trying new activities or making new friends.

You’ll have a lot of decisions to make about what you want to do in high school and you might even make some mistakes. Just know that you can talk to us about anything, anytime — even if you DO make a mistake or feel stuck in a situation that you need help to get out of. We won’t freak out. We’ll figure out a way to help you. We want you to count on us to help you make smart decisions and stay safe, okay?

It seems like you are hanging with a different crowd than you have in the past. Is something going on with your usual friends? Is there a problem with your old friends, or are you just branching out and meeting some new kids? Tell me about your new friends. What are they like? What do they like to do? What do you like about them?

The response should be measured, quiet and serious — not yelling, shouting or overly emotional. Your child should realize that this isn’t just a small frustrating moment like when he doesn’t do a chore you asked for; it’s a very serious moment.
Say, “I’m really upset that you’re smoking/drinking. I need to get a handle on how often this has been happening and what your experiences have been so far. I get that you’re worried about being in trouble, but the worst part of that moment is over — I know that you’re experimenting. I love you and care about you. Your health and well-being are very important to me. Let’s talk about this. I need you to be honest with me. So for starters, tell me about what happened tonight.”

Partnership with Drug-Free Kids outlined these scenarios:

Your teen is starting high school — and you want to

remind him that he doesn’t have to give in to

peer pressure to drink or use drugs.


Your teen has started to hang out with kids you

don’t know — and dropped his old friends.

Your high schooler comes home smelling of

alcohol or cigarette smoke for the first time.

Tips for Talking with your Teenager

Make sure your teen knows your rules and the consequences for breaking those rules — and, most importantly, that you really will enforce those consequences if the 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 are not regularly monitored by their parents are four times more likely to use drugs.

Make it clear that you disapprove of all alcohol, tobacco and drug use. As teens are extremely concerned with their physical appearance, remind your teen about the negative effects alcohol, tobacco and other drugs have on physical appearance.

Let your teen in on all the things you find wonderful about him. He needs to hear a lot of positive comments about his life and who he is as an individual — and not just when he makes the basketball team or does well on a test. Positive reinforcement can go a long way in preventing drug use among teens.

Show interest in and discuss your child’s daily ups and downs. You’ll earn your child’s trust, learn how to talk to each other, and won’t take your child by surprise when you voice a strong point of view about drugs.

Don’t just leave your child’s anti-drug education up to her school. Ask your teen what she’s learned about drugs in school and then build on that with additional topics, such as how and why chemical dependence occurs; the unpredictable nature of dependency and how it varies from person to person; the impact of drug use on maintaining a healthy lifestyle; or positive approaches to stress reduction.

Encourage your teen to volunteer somewhere that he can see the impact of drugs on your community. Teenagers tend to be idealistic and enjoy hearing about ways they can help make an impact. Help your teen research volunteer opportunities at local homeless shelters, hospitals or victim services centers.


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

Things NOT to do when talking with your Teenager

  • Lie. Be honest with your kids if they ask about your drug experience. Now, that doesn't mean that you have to reveal everything that you did, or bare your soul. Emphasize the negative consequences, perhaps why you regret it now, or how it hurt you in some way.

  • Think that once is enough. Parents often ask 'how do you know how often you should bring these things up with your kids?'  And the answer is if they're not complaining that you're talking about it too much, then you're probably not talking about it enough.

  • Treat pot lightly. It's NOT 'just pot'. Adults across our nation are confused about marijuana because of the commercialization and legalization but don't let that confuse you about the devastating impacts it has on the developing brain. If you're still unsure what you believe, keep diving deeper into the research. Also, keep in mind that the pot of the 60's is not the same as the pot today. Marijuana has become significantly more potent since the 1960's.

  • Underestimate your power! Teens say parents remain the number one influence in their decision to stay away from drugs.


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