As a parent, it is perfectly natural for you to be worried about your child as he or she moves into the teen years. During those years, you suddenly find yourself being less of a primary influence in your teen’s life, as peers begin to compete for that role. However, even with a diminished amount of influence, you can still help your child enjoy a healthy and safe lifestyle that includes being free from drug and alcohol use.
Adolescent vulnerability to the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse is well-documented. Substance abuse poses risks such as organ damage or chronic illnesses, as well as dangerous risk-taking behaviors, an increased exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, and an increase in aggressive behavior. Drug and alcohol abuse can also alter the developing brain, interfering with memory, learning, and emotional functioning.
Risk factors increasing the likelihood that your teen will abuse drugs or alcohol are diverse: for example, a substance-abusing family member or peer group, academic difficulties, and anxiety or depression.
Often, adults believe that their children are simply not capable of falling prey to drugs or alcohol. Many either deny the possibility altogether, or choose to believe that their children are simply “experimenting” with the substances. Despite those denials, one fact is inescapable: any teen can be vulnerable to substance abuse. The important thing for parents to do is to learn to recognize when it has happened to their child. The following is a list of some signs of drug or alcohol abuse:
- Change in appetite or sleep patterns
- Unusual smells on your child’s clothes or body
- Tremors, impaired coordination, slurred speech
- Reddened eyes or difficulty focusing
- Decline in grades or neglect of extracurricular activities
- Lying or stealing
- Frequently getting into trouble
- Sudden changes in your child’s group of friends
- Change in personality or appearing ‘spaced out’
There are a variety of protective factors that can help to minimize these risks, however. It is our role as adults to responsibly encourage or provide:
- Activities which promote self-esteem
- Open and frequent communication about drugs/alcohol between parent and child
- Access to positive role models in a teen’s life
- Drug education in school and at home
- No contact with activities where drugs or alcohol will be present
There are also some critical things that you can do as a parent to more effectively talk to your child about drugs and alcohol:
- Make yourself available when your child wants to talk.
- Explain the dangers of drugs and alcohol in an age-appropriate manner, and equip your child to make healthy choices.
- Explain why you do not want your child using drugs or alcohol.
- Avoid being judgmental or expressing anger when discussing the subject.
- If your child asks, be honest about your personal experiences with drugs and alcohol.
- Listen to what your child says and also pay attention to what he or she does not say.
Above all else, remember that your child still needs your guidance and help with serious issues like substance abuse. Teenagers may like to think they have everything figured out, but that’s simply not the case. The good news is that open lines of communication and the right focus from you can help your child to avoid many of the most common pitfalls of teen substance abuse.