By Kristen L. Polin, MAEd.

We love our kids and want the very best for them the moment they are born. Through the many stages of childhood, parents experience the highs and lows of childrearing in this fast paced world. It’s safe to assume that no one envisions a future for their child that is destroyed by drugs or alcohol, and definitely, not your kid. We do our best to prepare our children for life’s predictable and sometimes unpredictable challenges. We hope they make the right choices and you can be the one to help them navigate their way.

While there is no exact script or guarantee for preventing adolescent drug use, we know there are effective ways to keep the lines of communication open and remain knowledgeable about the risk factors that are in play. Adolescence is a critical time of important physical, emotional, intellectual and social development. It’s a time when your child is learning how to make important decisions, build close friendships, solve problems and handle real life responsibilities. Drug and alcohol use interferes with an adolescent’s ability to learn and improve those skills.

Have “The Talk.” It may be an uncomfortable conversation to have but not having the conversation could lead to much bigger problems. Here are some of the top risk factors to consider when taking a closer look at your teens level of exposure and the environment they live in:

• Access to prescription medications, alcohol and other drugs. Teens who are actively using tend to abuse whatever substances are close at hand. If you have prescription medications around the house that could be abused, or if your teen is prescribed one of these drugs, they are at a greater risk for drug abuse. Keep these medications locked up and oversee their administration to reduce access. The same goes for alcohol. Safeguard your home and minimize the odds.
• Perception of harm. Teens who think that prescription drugs are safer to use in comparison to illicit drugs are more likely to abuse them. This represents another opportunity to be very clear with your teen that prescription opioids (potent pain relievers) are highly addictive and often become the gateway to heroin. Talk about how dangerous non-medical use of prescriptions can be, especially when abused. Other perceptions may also cloud judgment when teens are inundated with messaging about medical marijuana and the intense exposure to more than 100,000 alcohol ads that send very mixed messages about drinking before they even reach the age of 18.
• Perceived parent approval. A major risk factor for any kind of substance abuse in teens is a perception that their parents are okay with their actions. When parents give the green light and do not set clear, no-use expectations, risk increases greatly for your child.

Protect your teen. You can foster protection around your child with this practical list.

• Peer pressure and social environment. Peer pressure is an important force in the lives of teens. They need to fit in with peers but sometimes this can go too far. Feeling pressure from peers to drink alcohol or try prescriptions medications or marijuana is real and simply hanging around other teens that are using can be strong risk factors. Open up the dialogue and talk to your teen about their friends and how to combat peer pressure in risky situations.
• Have an “out.” We always encourage parents to practice with their kids what an “out” looks like for them. Some find that drug testing is not only a preventative detection tool but also a valid way for your teen to avoid getting stuck in this kind of situation. To feel comfortable talking openly with you your teen needs to know that you will not punish him or her for being honest.
• Stay informed. Parents tend to underestimate their teen’s exposure to illegal drugs. Factor in the volume of exposure to favorable attitudes toward drug use on the Internet and heed this warning that it is vital to closely monitor your child’s digital behavior.
• Positive feedback strengthens a teen’s decision not to use drugs. Teens that make public and personal commitments to stay away from drugs need to be supported and encouraged to stay on the right path.
• Busy, supervised teens have fewer opportunities to do drugs. Encourage your teen to take part in their community through activities, volunteering, after-school programs or a part-time job.
• Get to know your teen’s friends. Know where they hang out and what they are doing. Talk with your teen’s friends’ parents about your “no drug use” rules.
• Boost your teen’s self-confidence and self-worth. Praise his or her attempts as well as achievements. Encourage your teen to express his or her opinions and feelings in a positive way such as talking, writing or drawing.
• Be a good listener. Take the time to talk with and listen to your teen. Show them that you are there for them when they need you.
• Get involved in your teen’s education. Set rules for doing homework, set goals for school grades, ask questions about their classes, and encourage reading.
• Help your teen (especially girls) develop a positive body image. Encourage your teen to respect his or her body by encouraging healthy eating, exercising regularly, and avoiding alcohol and other drugs.

What should you do if you suspect your teen is drinking or using drugs?

If you believe your teen is abusing drugs or your efforts to enforce the rules have failed repeatedly, we advise that you seek help from a counselor or health care professional immediately. Do not wait; notMYkid is here to help connect you to the right support and educational resources.

Kristen L. Polin, MAEd. Is Vice President of Programs at notMYkid. For more information, visit www.notmykid.org/drug-abuse or call 602-652-0163.

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