“What the world needs now”…is Parents. Engaged Parents.
Parents who attend RIZE Prevention’s iRIZE Family Nights aren’t sure what to expect, as drug prevention messaging has been very hit-or-miss over the past 20 years. However, by the end of the events, they are thankful they did and always say, “More parents should be here!” We couldn’t agree more.
In a world where substance use among teens is the most prevalent public health crisis, RIZE Prevention is shining a light on the powerful role parents play in turning the tide and saving an entire generation from destruction. For some that reality is hard to hear, but numbers don’t lie. Today, 3 out of 10 middle school-aged kids have either experimented with or are actively using substances. That number more than doubles to 8 out of 10 in high school. Almost all adults struggling with substance use dependence or disorders began experimenting before the age of 17. Most of those were still living at home with at least one parent, grandparent, or guardian.
What does this mean? We’re missing a phenomenal window of opportunity to change the future and make it brighter by not prioritizing drug prevention and equipping parents to confidently stand on the frontlines of fighting this epidemic!
The Crucial Role of Parental Relationships in Preventing Teen Substance Use
In the complex landscape of adolescence, teens are bombarded with an array of challenges, temptations, and decisions. Among these is the potential use of drugs and alcohol. While peers, media, and societal factors play undeniable roles in influencing teens, a considerable amount of research suggests that parents and the nature of their relationship with their children can be the greatest protective factor in the prevention of substance use.
Parental Influence: It Matters
It’s a common misconception that adolescents are resistant to their parents’ input. Indeed, as they seek independence and establish their identities, teens might appear rebellious or dismissive. However, beneath this quest for autonomy, they still seek guidance, values, and connection from their parents.
Parental relationships provide the foundation upon which teens build their perceptions of the world, including their views on drugs and alcohol. A supportive, communicative parental relationship can empower teens with the tools and confidence they need to navigate the challenging decisions they face. The bonds formed during childhood and adolescence are profound. They influence the choices teens make, the company they keep, and the standards they uphold. At the end of the day, teens only know what they are taught, emulate what they see their parents do and acquire much of the same belief systems as validated by their parents.
Open Communication is Power
Open communication between parents and teens is crucial. When parents foster an environment where teens feel safe discussing any topic, including substance use, it paves the way for honest exchanges. Such transparency ensures that teens receive accurate information and feel supported in their decisions!
Research has consistently shown that teens who report having regular conversations with their parents about substance use are significantly less likely to engage in drug or alcohol use. Contrarily, silence or avoidance can send a message of tacit approval or, worse, leave teens uninformed and vulnerable to peer pressure.
How Parents Can Initiate Conversations About Drugs and Alcohol
Take full advantage of “teachable moments.” It is better to have 50 1-minute conversations than 1 50-minute conversation! Those conversations can make a real impact, if parents keep the following in mind:
- Start Early and Often. Begin conversations about substance use during pre-adolescence and maintain them throughout the teen years. Early education sets a foundation, and continuous dialogue adapts to the evolving challenges teens face.
- Lead with Empathy. Remember, teens are not seeking a lecture. They want understanding, guidance, and support. Express genuine interest in their lives and concerns.
- Stay Informed. Teens will have questions. Being knowledgeable about different substances, their effects, and their risks allows parents to provide accurate information.
- Set Clear Boundaries. While it’s important to be understanding, it’s equally essential to set clear expectations about drug and alcohol use. Being firm about family values and the consequences of substance use can provide teens with a robust framework to lean on when faced with tough choices.
- Be a Role Model. Children and teens are observant. Demonstrating responsible behavior when it comes to substances sends a more potent message than words alone.
- Engage in Active Listening. Sometimes, teens just need to be heard. Listening actively without interrupting or immediately offering solutions can be powerful. It reinforces to teens that their feelings and thoughts are valid and important.
The Power of a Supportive Home Environment
It’s no secret that adolescence is a period of vulnerability. But with vulnerability comes opportunity — the chance for parents to solidify their roles as primary protectors against the perils of substance use. While peers and societal influences are undeniable, a teen’s home environment, characterized by trust, open communication, and unwavering support, can be the fortress that guards them against the temptations of drugs and alcohol.
The strength of parental relationships and communication cannot be overstated in the fight against teen substance use. By understanding their unparalleled position of influence, parents can arm their teens with the knowledge, confidence, and values they need to navigate their adolescent years safely and responsibly. Indeed, parents DO have the power to inspire their teens to live drug-free!
Martine Helou-Allen is Founder and Executive Director of RIZE Prevention.