I am asked daily, by concerned parents, relatives and friends of teenagers, what can be done to keep teens away from the drugs and alcohol that seem to permeate our schools. The statistics surrounding teen drug and alcohol use are daunting and justify action by those concerned for a loved one. The average age today for a teen to first use alcohol is 13. The statistics on drug use are equally terrifying.
So, what is a parent or loved one to do? Of course, this question can be answered via thousands of different answers via hundreds of different methodologies and belief systems. However, rather than overload you with a diatribe on parenting, discipline, model behavior and religion, we are going to provide five easy to understand steps that every parent should know, understand and practice:
- Start Early. Do NOT wait until you first suspect your teen has used drugs or alcohol. By this time, the pattern of use, circle of friends and coping skills may already be set into your child’s daily life. Based on the studies detailed above, we suggest starting when your child is 12.
- Model Sober Behavior. Your children model your behavior, period. If you curse in the house, your children are going to curse. If you routinely spew political diatribes against Trump or Obama, your child is going to mirror those views. If your favorite team is the Cubs, your child is going to be a Cubs fan. So, when you constantly infuse alcohol into your family and social events, that is the behavior your children are going to think is normal and model. Think about it. When was the last time you had a family event (picnic, birthday party, reunion) without alcohol? When friends come from out of town for dinner, is wine always on the table? Is beer a normal part of your Sunday NFL experience?
- Prepare Your Teens for Peer Pressure. Almost every child will face peer pressure in high school — including on subjects such as what shoes to wear, which girls to talk to, which cars are cool and whether to use drugs and alcohol. Provide your teen with a resource to reach out to on these occasions. In a perfect world, this should be mom or dad. But if that is not realistic in your family, have an older cousin ready to tackle the tough questions, or the “cool” aunt.
- Be an Informed (and nosey if needed) Parent. Do you let your kids go to parties, sleepovers or bonfires on the beach without knowing the details of the event? This is not a recipe for teen sobriety. If your teen is going on a sleepover, make sure you know the parents (preferably well), and have the discussion about drugs and alcohol. If your teen is going to a party at a classmate’s house, call the parent and ask about supervision, refreshments and attendees. If your child is going to a bonfire, make sure there is an adult supervisor and, if not, stay there! Sure, your teen may complain, but isn’t a few minutes of resentment worth ensuring your teen isn’t passed out drunk on the sand?
- Educate Your Child on the Downsides of Addiction. As we are all aware of from our own youth, teens think they are invincible. Whether it is driving like a Nascar driver or doing 10 shots of tequila with friends, teens believe they will survive. They rarely think about the short-term consequences and NEVER think about long-term consequences. And the long-term consequences can be severe and irreversible — addiction and alcoholism. Simply put, the earlier the drinking or drug use starts, the more likely it will end in a life of addiction. This often ignored yet indisputable fact is even more critical to grasp for children with addiction in their genes. Early experimentation can increase the chances of future addiction in these vulnerable children, who are up to 20 times more susceptible than their peers. So, get the information in your preteen’s brain now, before the drinking and drug use begins. Give your children a fighting chance against these overwhelming odds. Act now. Our book, My Dad is an Alcoholic, What About Me?, was designed to help with this step.
For the millions of parents seeking tools to prevent, slow down or stop teen drug use and drinking, these five steps are for you. Act now before this advice is too late and you find yourself researching rehabs, counselors and defense lawyers instead.
Marc Treitler and his family are the founders and creators of the family addiction education website www.potatoallergy.com and the authors and illustrators of My Dad Is an Alcoholic, What About Me?: A Pre-teen Guide to Conquering Addictive Genes.