No one ever said parenting would be easy — but parenting a teen is, in so many ways, an especially difficult task. Science shows us that parents can have a huge impact on their teens’ choices and lives, but only if they’re equipped with the right information.
It’s important to remember your power as a parent. Here are suggestions on ways you can reduce the chance your teen will use substances or engage in other risky behavior:
1. Build a warm & supportive relationship with your child. Research shows that children who can count on their parents’ support and warmth are less likely to use substances. This can mean everything from discussing shared interests to engaging in activities together.
2. Be a good role model when it comes to drinking, taking medication and handling stress. When it comes to alcohol and other substances, children are likely to model their parents’ behaviors — both healthy and unhealthy ones.
3. Know your child’s risk level. Decades of research shows that some children have a higher risk of developing a substance use problem than others. Common risk factors include: family history of substance use disorder, the presence of mental illness or a behavioral disorder, a history of trauma, and the presence of impulse control problems. Addressing such risk factors early and paying attention to children at a higher risk can reduce the likelihood of future issues with substance use.
4. Know your child’s friends. It sounds simple, and it is. You, as the parent, set the foundation for your child’s interaction with their friends. As your child gets older, their friends play a more important role in the choices they make. Knowing who their friends are and a little about them can help you to be more prepared to intervene if a problem occurs.
5. Monitor, supervise, and set boundaries. Research shows that when parents monitor, supervise, and set boundaries for their children, they are at a lowered risk for using substances. Ways parents can monitor and supervise their children include: knowing where their child is at all times, keeping track of their child’s academic performance, being present during recreational events and helping their child with schoolwork and academic projects. Parents can set boundaries by establishing firm but reasonable rules, and explaining why such rules are necessary. For example, a parent could explain that the use of alcohol or other substances is prohibited, because they want the child to be healthy and safe.
6. Have ongoing conversations and provide information about substance use. This can help build a healthy, supportive and open parent/child relationship. Such a relationship can also help avoid or reduce conflict as situations arise throughout a child’s teenage years. When having such conversations, it is important to be brief and positive, and to avoid blame. It may also be important to be specific in setting boundaries, to express understanding in the child’s perspective, and to accept partial responsibility for negative experiences the child may have had.