Fall is just around the corner and for many families that means children of all ages will be going back to school. While it can be an exciting time for your kids to learn, grow, catch up with friends, and even meet new ones, it can be hard to not think about the challenges they may face. A major concern that many parents may have at any age, but especially for older kids, is peer pressure and the temptation to use drugs and alcohol. Even though it may be virtually impossible to eliminate the risk of your child being exposed to these substances, there are some steps you can take to ensure that they make wise, safe decisions.
Setting an Example
The old saying, “monkey see, monkey do” can apply to the use of drugs and alcohol. While it isn’t completely unreasonable for adults to enjoy the legal use of recreational substances, it doesn’t hurt to be cautious and aware when kids are involved. If drug and alcohol use cannot be avoided altogether in family settings, adults should at least consider using it responsibly and in moderation especially when young, impressionable minds are present. This can mean exercising good judgment such as keeping substances out of sight and reach of little ones, in addition to modeling proper behaviors such as handing over the keys to a designated driver after drinking.
Even the youngest children can be taught to recognize a sketchy situation. While their natural intuition can be helpful, knowing how to be aware of their surroundings at all times is a habit that you can help them to develop. Does your child know the signs of a potentially troublesome situation?
For example, young children can learn why it is important to have the supervision of a trusted adult wherever they go. As they grow and become more independent, you may teach them to walk against traffic and avoid poorly lit areas. These types of habits should also be practiced when it comes to staying safe from drugs and alcohol. It can be helpful to teach your children how to evaluate a situation based on the types of activities that are going on and the crowd that might be present and how to make a responsible choice from there.
Some parents may be wary to bring up disturbing situations with their children. After all, isn’t childhood is a time for a kid to be a kid? There’s no denying that childhood innocence should be embraced, but at the same time will your child be prepared if they find themselves in a less than ideal situation?
By practicing developmentally-appropriate role-playing, you can teach your kids to be diligent and how to respond to a variety of scenarios. For example, you may want to ask a school-aged child what they might do if they come across a can of beer or an opened bottle of prescription meds, whereas you may give your teen some ideas of what to do if their classmate invited them to experiment with drugs.
Recognizing Dangerous Substances and Their Effects
Many parenting experts advocate for authoritative parenting over other parenting styles. When it comes to discussing drug and alcohol safety, an authoritarian parent, for example, might simply tell their child to do what they say or suffer the consequences. However, a more effective, authoritative approach may be to teach your child the types of substances that exist and their side effects.
For younger kids, you can start by teaching them what both legal and illegal drugs can look like, why people use them, and how they can potentially harm their minds and bodies. For older kids, it can be enlightening to expand and discuss how being associated with drugs can have an impact on their social lives, educational opportunities, and career goals. You can even research together current trends in drug use including the Effects of Opioid Abuse that many users experience.
Utilizing Teachable Moments
When it comes to effectively raising your children with good values and strategies on how to handle the infinite scenarios they may encounter, you may realize that it doesn’t simply happen overnight or with a one-and-done lecture. Instead, it can be more helpful to keep an open line of communication for your child and to be on the lookout for shared experiences that can be used as teachable moments.
If you’re watching a movie with your teen that shows a character struggling with alcohol abuse, why not use it as an opportunity to discuss how addiction happens from Hereditary Alcoholism and other causes? If you’re out and about running errands with your kindergartener and someone offers you a sample at the grocery store, why not get them in the habit of checking with you first before trying it? You can prepare your child by forming these good habits in addition to more explicit discussions as needed.
Getting to Know Their Tribe
From a young age, children are taught about “stranger danger” but this is not always helpful when the temptation for drug or alcohol experimentation can come from people they know and trust. Because of this reality, it can be worthwhile to take a moment to get to know the people they spend time with.
While social media has made it increasingly easier to capture a glimpse into some people’s lifestyles, there is no substitute for taking a little time to host playdates, invite your kids’ friends and their parents over for dinner, or simply being present for the things that matter most to them. At the end of the day, your children are only young once so why not practice good habits that can keep them safe so they can enjoy their childhood to its fullest?