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What Parents Can Do to Prevent Children’s Substance Abuse

By November 27, 2015 - 1:32pm

One of the greatest fears of parents in today’s society is for their child to fall victim to substance abuse. In fact, in a national phone survey conducted annually by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, substance abuse ranks 3rd, topped only by obesity and bullying as a parent’s greatest fear for their child. [1]

The NIDA-funded annual survey called “Monitoring the Future” released its 2014 statistics on teenage substance abuse, specifically 12th, 10th and 8th graders. The total number of 2014 participants from 377 public and private schools nationwide was 41,551 students. The survey covers past-30-day use of alcohol, cigarette and illicit drugs. [2]

These numbers are lower than they were over 2 decades ago but alcohol and substance abuse remain a problem. Families continue to play a significant role in determining a child’s risk for substance abuse. It is therefore imperative for parents to educate themselves about the many ways they can prevent their children from even starting to use alcohol, tobacco or drugs. [3]

Set a good example –
Children mimic their parents’ actions good or bad, so stick to the good. Parents who openly smoke or drink at home and leave prescription pills and drug paraphernalia lying around are practically putting these substances into their children’s hands. Parents who practice healthy behavior or openly make an effort at home to quit smoking/smoke outdoors or lead healthier lifestyles will raise children who are less likely to smoke, drink or try illicit drugs when they grow up. In 2009, a combined 27.6% of all teenage drinking had parents, guardians and other adult family members in the home as the source of alcohol. [4]

Know your child’s whereabouts, activities and friends -
Parents should make the effort to know their children’s whereabouts at all times, what their activities are and which friends are with them at any particular time especially when they’re away from home. Teens that are closely monitored and supervised by their parents are less likely to start drinking smoking or doing drugs compared to those kids who are allowed to come and go as they please without having to answer to anyone. With peer pressure being among the top risk factors for substance abuse among teens, parents should be mindful of the company their children keep. If they suddenly start hanging out with new friends and dropping old ones, it’s a red flag. The key here however is balance. While parental monitoring and supervision is important, parents should take care not to cross over to excessive control and coercion (yelling, hitting, threatening) as it will likely drive the child more towards substance abuse. [3]

Set firm and reasonable rules and hold your child to them –
Establish a firm rule in your household that any alcohol or drug use will not be tolerated. Make sure your children understand the consequences of going against the rules and be consistent with enforcing them. This teaches them to be responsible for their actions.

Open communication –
Be the kind of parents with whom your children can talk about practically anything with. Make it easy for them to approach you, be it about school, their friends or relationships, their dreams, their disappointments, their fears etc. Teens who can talk to their parents openly have lower levels of alcohol, cigarette, cocaine and marijuana use. Discussing substance abuse objectively is an effective preventive measure that parents can take, even if they are substance abusers themselves. They can draw from their own personal experience and impart the message on a deeper level. Close to 35% of teens who discussed substance abuse with their parents say they learned much about the risks for themselves. Some 30% said their decision to stay away was influenced by having discussions with their parents. [3]

Build a warm, supportive and nurturing relationship with your child –
Young children need stability and nurturing, and just because they grow into their teens it doesn’t mean they will need less of it. If anything, they will need more support while navigating the emotional roller coaster that is adolescence. By laying down the foundation for close family ties when the children are young, it will be easier for them to accept and even welcome parental supervision and monitoring during their teens. This kind of atmosphere at home greatly reduces the risk of children going astray.

Youth Engagement –
This is defined as the meaningful and sustained involvement of youth in activities that are not focused primarily on oneself.[6] Involvement in positive, community-oriented endeavors will reduce their chances of participating in risky behavior, like drinking and substance abuse. Parents should encourage their children to enjoy a broad range of activities like volunteering for the community, arts, sports, music etc. all the while under their watchful but supportive supervision. Many studies prove that getting youth engaged in productive activities significantly impact the healthy development of their personalities, positively affecting their lives in the long term.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to parenting and parental involvement in the prevention of substance abuse among the young, but these are only a few of the many steps that have been proven to be effective towards achieving that goal. Take the time to consider these guidelines if you are not already practicing them at home, and look for other tips that you may find useful.

1 http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/study-uncovers-what-parents-fear-most-081614
2 http://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/monitoring-future-2014-survey-results
3 http://www.casacolumbia.org/addiction-research/reports/importance-of-family-dinners-2010
4 http://www.camy.org/resources/fact-sheets/prevalence-of-underage-drinking/
5 http://www.drugfree.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/6-Parenting-Practices-2014.pdf
6 http://www.drugabuse.ca/how-does-youth-engagement-prevent-our-youth-abusing-drugs-0

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