You may think that no matter what you do, whether or not your child decides to us drugs or alcohol is completely out of your hands. In your mind, kids will be kids, and they will do what they will do, and they are certainly not going to listen to their parents, and least of all to you. However, if you think that, you are just plain wrong. Children do listen to their parents – they are in fact their most important overall influence – and communicating with your children about important life decisions such as whether or not to use drugs or alcohol is not only important, it’s vital.
Setting boundaries for your children is also imperative. Of course you want to be the “cool” dad or mom, but you only get one shot at parenting, and you have to be the person making the mature and wise choices; your son or daughter counts on you to do so. Although your children may not like some of the rules you set for them, it is up to you to keep your sons and daughters healthy and alive, even as they become teenagers and beyond.
There are many strategies that can help parents to keep their children drug and alcohol free, and unfortunately, many parents don’t grasp or fully implement these things until it is too late. Employ some of the following suggestions and use them collectively as tools to help keep your child safe. Certainly, even parents who follow all of these tips do not always succeed in keeping their children drug and alcohol free, but at least they offer ideas that will help to put you a few steps ahead, and they will hopefully be enough to achieve this important goal.
- Talk to your kids about drugs. Talking to your kids about drug and alcohol abuse should be an ongoing, open conversation that starts at a very young age and which continues as they grow. It won’t be the easiest conversation that you will have in your lifetime, but it may be one of the most important. By talking to your kids about drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, addiction, and other related topics, its possible you will be saving them from a lifetime of drug dependence, and you may actually even be saving their lives.
- Stay up to date. Some drugs and alcohol were certainly around when you were young, but new substances are becoming available every day. It’s important that you educate yourself about new potential drugs and the ways that people use them, so you can be on the lookout for signs, and so you can warn your kids about them, too.
- Avoid threats. Threatening your children with retribution – especially when they haven’t even done anything yet – is a surefire way to put a rift between you. Your goal should be to encourage communication with your son or daughter, not shut it off entirely.
- Don’t shelter your child from reality. Some parents think if they just don’t talk about drugs and alcohol, their children will never be exposed to them. This is clearly false. It is far better to be open and honest about the risks of drugs and alcohol rather than to pretend they do not even exist.
- Radiate acceptance. Remember to tell your child that you love him or her often, and that you are always available if there are any questions or problems in their lives. Even though you think your son or daughter knows this already, they truly cannot hear it from you enough.
Be a Parent
- Know their friends. You need to know who your children are hanging out with, and where they are going with them. You should also know the parents of your child’s friends, too. Get to know the friends and the parents personally, and your son or daughter will be less likely to be unsupervised at their friends’ houses, and will have more adults looking out for them, too.
- Set a good example. Even if sometimes you drink to get drunk with your friends, you should never do so in front of your son or daughter. This sets a bad example, and that’s exactly the opposite of what you want to do. It does not send a good message, and it may encourage them to rationalize doing the same.
- Eat dinner together. Researchers have found that families that eat dinner together on a regular basis benefit in many ways. Recent studies show that families that do this have children with lower rates of substance abuse, lower instance of teen pregnancy, lower rates of depression, and higher GPAs and self-esteem. Spending time with your children daily over a meal is one of the best things you can do for them throughout their childhood and adolescence.
- Assign chores and responsibilities. Making sure your child feels like a valued and vital part of the household can be a big help, too. Assigning chores and responsibilities will help you ensure that he or she stays on task and does not simply disappear into his or her room upon arriving home from school.
- Don’t confuse intelligence with maturity. Although some teens mature faster than others, the fact of the matter is, they are still teens. Certainly, they may be able to discuss politics and literature with you now, but that doesn’t mean they are able to make adult decisions. The part of the brain responsible for decision-making does not finish developing until people are in their mid-twenties.
- Be aware of family history. If drug or alcohol abuse runs in your family, your child is at a higher risk – even if it did not affect you personally. Be aware, and ask relatives for more information if you need it. It might be a touchy subject, but it is one worth bringing up for your son or daughter’s future.
- Look out for early signs. There may be things that you did as a kid, but you turned out all right, so when you see it in your own son or daughter, your initial instinct is to let it slide. Your child may not be as lucky as you were, though, so it’s important to address any drug use you see or suspect right away with discussion, and if necessary, punishment.
- Watch academics. If your son or daughter has always been a good student, but suddenly those grades start to slip, it can be a textbook warning sign of drug and alcohol abuse, or even just of running with the wrong crowd. Use this signal to your benefit and take action.
- Impose a curfew. There’s a saying that says, “nothing good happens after midnight,” and for all intents and purposes, it’s mostly true. Set a time for your son or daughter to be home, and enforce it. They may hate you for this, but it may be one of the biggest things you can do to keep them out of late night trouble.
- If needed, get help right away. Don’t delay. If your son or daughter is using drugs or alcohol, don’t assume it will right itself on its own. Address the problem quickly, and get your child into treatment immediately if warranted.
And Most Importantly…
- Make sure they get lots of sleep. A multi-year study published in 2016 found that less sleep or poor sleep as a child correlated with individuals trying alcohol and drugs sooner and using it repeatedly in adolescence and adulthood. In fact, for every hour less a boy slept at age eleven, on average, he would smoke marijuana or drink alcohol twenty percent sooner. Getting a good night’s sleep can also help combat depression and help your son or daughter to get better grades. Institute a bedtime and make your child stick to it.
- Focus on self-image, self-esteem and accomplishment. Get your child involved in activities. Doing so will help him or her to set goals, reach for achievements, and feel better about himself or herself when reaching them. It will help them to be more focused on the future and will keep them occupied outside of school. Children and teens with high self-esteem from being a part of something are far less likely to use drugs and alcohol than those who have a negative self-image.
All of these tips can be helpful for parents who wish to keep their children away from and free of drugs and alcohol. Look to them as if they are an arsenal of weapons against these things that can only change your son or daughter’s lives for the worse. Be vigilant, be communicative, and be loving. You can keep your child drug and alcohol free.
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