Helping Your Child Stay Drug and Alcohol Free
Most of us know the many reasons to keep our children drug and alcohol free, including the risk to their developing brain as well as their psychosocial development. Unfortunately, once a child starts using drugs or alcohol, getting them to stop, and to remain abstinent, can be quite the challenge. The best course of action is to ensure, to the best of your ability, that your child does not go down this road of drug and alcohol use at all.
While we never have complete control over the choices our kids may make, there are many things that parents need to consider when instilling in their child the parental expectation that you will not use drugs and alcohol.
Know your child well. At an early age, you can start picking up on certain characteristics about your child that might make them more or less susceptible to using drugs or alcohol. Some children are more impulsive, and may be thrill-seekers or risk takers. Some children may be people pleasers or less assertive. When we become highly attuned to how our child thinks and operates, we can help them grow in ways they might need to stretch themselves, and we can help them develop and use their personality in healthy outlets. For instance, get your highly active kid involved in a competitive sport, make sure your less assertive child is standing up for his or herself with their friends or classmates.
Often in elementary school and middle school, police officers or social workers will come to the school to talk about drug and alcohol use and abuse. Use these times to continue to discussion at home and find out what your child thinks, and why.
Let your kids know your expectations and stay firm. Sometimes parents are wishy-washy on this issue. If you have the mindset that it is normal and okay for kids to drink and use marijuana on occasion, or perhaps don’t have a strong stance on this issue, I would challenge you to approach this issue differently. If you do not have a clear cut boundary that no use is acceptable, you are basically inviting drug and alcohol problems into your home and child’s lifestyle. Simply put, kids don’t have the ability to drink or use drugs responsibly due to their developing brain and bodies. You are making it extra hard for your kid if you are permissive about this because you are telling him or her to be able to do something he developmentally cannot handle.
The other issue with this mindset is I find that when parents are permissive, they have difficulty with deciding or knowing when the use has become problematic, and it often quickly develops into a serious problem.
Keep your kids busy, but not so busy they are completely overwhelmed. The activity level they need to thrive will depend on the kid. Kids need structure and activities where they excel. It allows them to feel proud and competent. Kids that feel proud of themselves and competent have a stronger feeling of self respect and this can safeguard against drug and alcohol use.
If you need to say so no regarding hanging out with a particular friend or group of people, or going to a certain party, don’t worry if your child is mad, even REALLY MAD at you. Just chalk it up to being par for the course on occasion when you are parenting well. Stay focused on the bigger picture, and remind yourself of the why. You are keeping your child safe, you are doing the best you can, you are being an effective parent. Your child respect you more if you can stand up and say no to things, if you can be firm. Even if they don’t consciously show it, it helps them feel safe. If it helps, through my own experiences (and likely some of yours too) and many of my client’s experiences, there are always things we are glad our parents said no to, later in life.
If you used drugs and/or alcohol as a kid, you can still make sure your kids don’t. It doesn’t make you a hypocrite, it doesn’t mean anything other than the fact that you might have an EXTRA reason to make sure your kids don’t follow in your footsteps. Do not succumb to pressure to share your own issues with your children. Your child might use it against you. If you believe it would help the situation to be more honest, you can simply say that there are some things you did as a teenager that you wish you didn’t do, and it is your job as a parent (and a person who is older and wiser) to tell them what is in their best interest to do.
Don’t most of us remember as a teenager rolling our eyes, acting annoyed, lashing out, etc when our parents “lectured” us about things we didn’t want to hear? Of course, we don’t want to lecture all the time or it will lose it’s impact, but we do have things we want to teach and instill in our children. Just remember, that simply because your child acts like he doesn’t care, that doesn’t usually mean you weren’t heard.
Don’t buy into the myth that your kids don’t want you around. Sure, they don’t want you in the middle of every conversation with their friends, obsessing over their grades, etc. But, research shows that teens do like their parents around, and to know that their parents aren’t overly immersed in their own work, friendships, hobbies, etc. Also, being around and observant of what they’re up to can help you to be aware of challenges in their lives.
Pay attention to your own desire to be a “cool parent.” Some parents want their kids to fit into social circles or want to fit in with the parents, and might then say yes to something they should say no to. Check your own motivations for saying “yes” or “no.”
No one ever said parenting is easy, particularly the teen years. None of us get it right all the time. If you find that you are really struggling with your child, reach out. Get help for your child, but don’t forget to get help for yourself too.