The Power of Parents

No matter where you live these days, drugs (including alcohol) are not hard for young people to get access to. There is no question that your child will have the opportunity, should he or she choose, to use drugs. Both the opportunities and the subtle pressure to do so will increase as your child moves into higher grades. It is not easy for parents to know whether to be concerned, what kind of guidance to give their child, or how to communicate their concerns.

The fact is, kids today know more and are exposed to a greater variety of drugs that are stronger, cheaper, and easier to find than ever before. That’s why it is critical for parents to become as knowledgeable as possible. By educating yourself about the availability and dangers of drug use in your neighbourhood, you can help prevent your child from using drugs in the first place. 

It may surprise you to know that in survey after survey, kids report that their parents are the single most important influence when it comes to drugs. Teens who consistently learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs than those who don't.[1] Research over the years is clear: your influence is the most powerful and enduring in your child’s decision-making process.

 

Protective Factors

There are few guarantees when it comes to parenting. However, there are things parents can do to reduce the chances that their children will have problems with substances. Perhaps more importantly, there are many things parents can do to strengthen and increase their children’s likelihood of being able to cope with life’s challenges and to grow into happy, well-balanced adults. Research suggests children are less likely to get into problems as teens if they develop:

  • Self-restraint

  • A strong social support group

  • Problem-solving skills

  • Motivation to succeed

 

Fortunately, research has identified factors that tend to strengthen children’s resiliency to problematic behaviours. These are sometimes called protective factors. Parents can help build protective factors in children by practicing:

  • Clear and consistent boundaries and expectations

  • Closeness as a family

  • Good lines of communication

  • A peaceful home environment

  • Love and support towards children

  • Involvement and interest in activities such as arts, sports, and school performances

  • Relationships with other positive adult role models

  • Involvement in service to others

It is not a matter of being perfect or a “super parent.” It is useful to remember that no one on earth loves your child more than you do. You are probably the single strongest protective factor your child has. And it is not a matter of doing big things, as things that seem small or simple can build on the strengths of your child.

 

When do I start talking to my child about drugs?

Many parents wonder about when they should start discussing the dangers of drugs with their children. It is never too early to begin talking to your children about drugs. Even at a very early age you can talk about the need to be careful when it comes to taking over-the-counter and prescription medications. Take advantage of teachable moments; for example, if you see someone smoking on TV, talk about the harm it can cause.

Talking to your children about drugs should not be isolated to a single conversation. It should be a continuous conversation, communicated in an age appropriate way. Conversations with your child should reflect where you stand and what you expect, what the risks of using drugs are, and, how to respond when given an opportunity to try drugs. Here are some suggestions for when you talk to your child about drugs:

Setting the stage: Setting the stage for those times when you and your child discuss serious matters is not done all at once. Hopefully, over the years, you and your child have developed a close relationship and he or she feels comfortable talking with you, knows you well, and even expects you to talk with him or her on many matters. Your child hopefully knows of your love, concern, and belief.

Timing: The best situation in which to discuss drugs with your child is at a ‘teachable moment’: discussions may be triggered by something that happened at school, or something your child or you heard in the news. Like anything, there needs to be a readiness on the part of your child. This is usually when he or she is thinking about it or has some concerns, or is at a point where he or she is likely to be exposed to drugs in social settings. You do not have to be serious and formal. In many cases, communication is already happening naturally and throughout a variety of contexts.

Ways to open the discussion: Sometimes it is hard to know when to start the conversation – that’s why having context is important. Here are a few examples of context:

  • Current events: Maybe you have read the papers or seen in the media how many serious and costly problems are caused by drugs.

  • Ask questions: What do you and your friends think of all the gang violence we hear about in cities? What are the drugs involved? Why do some people want to use drugs?

  • Talk about their social group: Ask if they know if any kids at their school are drinking, smoking or doing drugs. What type? How do they and their friends feel about that? 

  • Share information: Discuss “did you know” information using current research about drugs found on this website.

  • Note: It is less important to talk about the details of any of these drugs than it is to share concerns as a parent about the many ways they can hurt people.

 

Ways to respond in a discussion: Your job is to provide guidance and direction. Trust your parental instinct to protect your child, especially when that instinct tells you not all choices are right, and that your child needs to make wise choices. You are not just a facilitator, as a parent you can also:

  • Express your trust and respect for your child.

  • Indicate that you know that using substances is common among some youth, but not for all youth.

  • Explain your concerns from an educated stance.

  • Use active listening skills to ensure your child is being heard as well.+

Talk about the right thing:

  • A small child does not need a pharmacology lesson, but they should know about things to avoid and things to talk with parents if and when they come up.

  • Talk to your child about your expectations for behaviour, and your support for dealing with situations that will begin happening soon.

  • Middle or older teens need clear direction on what parents expect, clear support for healthy choices, reinforcement of responsible behaviour, and lots of ways out of, and reasons not to be in situations involving greater temptation than they can handle.

  • Children of any age need security, safety, a sense of importance, affection, clear and reasonable expectations, and to be comfortable in the knowledge that they are loved unconditionally.

 

Keeping your kids drug free

If you know your child is being exposed to drugs at school and other social situations, here are some suggestions to help keep them drug free:

  • Open, two-way conversations can reinforce your child’s awareness of your family values and make the idea of drugs less appealing.

  • Practice roleplays in which your child can refuse to go along with friends without becoming a social outcast.

  • Get to know your child’s friends and invite them into your home to provide a welcoming, safe space.

  • If your teen wants to hang out at a friend’s house, get to know that friend’s parents and their rules.

  • Encourage and support your child to participate in healthy, positive activities.

  • Steer your teen away from any friends who use drugs.

  • Make sure parties they plan to attend will be drug-free and supervised by adults.

  • Set curfews and enforce them with reasonable consequences that you have discussed beforehand.

  • Sit down for dinner at least once a week and use the time to talk.

  • Let them know why you don’t want them to use drugs, and establish a clear family position on substances.

  • Be a good role model. Don’t reach for a beer the minute you come home after a tough day – it sends the message that drinking is the best way to unwind.

  • Encourage and support your child to grow their self-efficacy through sincere compliments.

If you suspect your child is experimenting with drugs, here are some thoughts for handling the situation:

  • Stay calm – do not threaten, yell, blame or use other verbal or body language tools to get the upper hand.

  • Do not get trapped in self-blame, as this is unhelpful to all.

  • Think before you speak. Take the time to think it through, talk with your spouse/partner/friend/family member/support if there is one, so you can be together on the issue.

  • Do not blow things out of proportion, but also do not underestimate the importance of talking about things to work toward solutions.

  • Avoid accusations. Ask and listen. Let your child finish talking before jumping in.

  • Listen. Listen. Listen. Acknowledge and validate the pressures and confused feelings that he or she may be experiencing.

  • Express your trust and confidence in his or her ability to act responsibly.

  • Do not be quick to respond and do not brush aside concerns or offer quick answers or judgments. Remember: at the end of the day no one on earth loves your child more than you do.

  • Be very clear in giving your expectations and the fact that everything you counsel him or her to do is out of love and concern for his or her well-being.

  • Let your child offer some concrete suggestions for ways he or she can respond the next time someone suggests using substances or going somewhere where substances or being used. Let him or her practice ways to get away from situations while saving face.

  • Take time to talk about “what a friend is.” This includes the idea that a friend: likes you as you are; wants you to be safe and happy; wants you to have his or her interests at heart – to “watch his or her back”; would not do something intentionally to hurt you; would not want you to do something that hurt you or got you into trouble.

 

Resources for Parents

Kids and Drugs – A Parent’s Guide to Prevention is a booklet filled with valuable information for parents. It was developed by the RCMP and Alberta Health Services.

The “Parent Talk Kit” developed by the Partnership for Drug Free Kids gives tips on what to say to your child from pre-school through to young adults when it comes to discussing a variety of scenarios related to drug use and abuse.

The Partnership for Drug Free Kids website provides tips and advice on what to say about drug prevention and drug abuse for young children through young adults.

The Interior Chemical Dependency Office website provides a wealth of information and a link for a short quiz to determine if you are enabling your loved one.

A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Underage Marijuana Use, developed by Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Social Development Research Group, was published following the legalization of marijuana for adults in Washington State.

GROWING UP DRUG FREE: A Parent’s Guide to Prevention, is a 64-page booklet produced by the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Department of Education in 2012.

Drug Free Kids Canada website has lots of information about drugs, how to protect your family and how to get help.

Check out the Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines for Youth (LRADG) developed by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, if you have a teenager who is going to parties where alcohol is available.

Make a Difference, Talk to Your Child About Alcohol, from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, is geared to parents and caregivers of youth 10 to 14.

 

Things to Ponder:

  • 73 percent of teens report that the number one reason for using drugs is to cope with school pressure, yet only 7 percent of parents believe teens might use drugs to deal with stress. [2]

  • Families who spend more time together and foster good feelings such as support and praise are less likely to have children who have issues with drug use.[3] Even if you don’t talk directly about drugs, being there is just as important. Going to their sports events, eating dinner together, and going on day trips together are all activities that will bring you and your teen closer together.

  • It is so easy today with all the stresses and business of life, to just come home and close the door and shut out the world. However, it is important to interact with the world, especially with your child’s friend’s parents. Think of the power of community if all parents knew each other and were in communication. You don’t have to be buddies, just get to know them.

  • Research shows that kids are less likely to use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs if their parents have established a pattern of setting clear rules and consequences for breaking those rules. Kids who are not regularly monitored by their parents are four times more likely to use drugs.[4]

  • Don't just leave your child's anti-drug education up to his or her school. Ask your teen what she's learned about drugs in school and then continue with that topic or introduce new topics.

No matter where you live these days, drugs (including alcohol) are not hard for young people to get access to. There is no question that your child will have the opportunity, should he or she choose, to use drugs. Both the opportunities and the subtle pressure to do so will increase as your child moves into higher grades. It is not easy for parents to know whether to be concerned, what kind of guidance to give their child, or how to communicate their concerns.

The fact is, kids today know more and are exposed to a greater variety of drugs that are stronger, cheaper, and easier to find than ever before. That’s why it is critical for parents to become as knowledgeable as possible. By educating yourself about the availability and dangers of drug use in your neighbourhood, you can help prevent your child from using drugs in the first place. 

It may surprise you to know that in survey after survey, kids report that their parents are the single most important influence when it comes to drugs. Teens who consistently learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs than those who don't.[1] Research over the years is clear: your influence is the most powerful and enduring in your child’s decision-making process.

  1. 2011 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, Teens and Parents. April 6, 2011. The Partnership at Drug Free Org. Web.

  2. National Research News Release. Partnership for Drug Free Kids. August 4, 2008

  3. Hawkins, J.; Catalano, R.; Miller, J. Risk And Protective Factors For Alcohol And Other Drug Problems In Adolescence And Early Adulthood: Implications For Substance Abuse Prevention. Psychological Bulletin 1992, 112, 64-105.

  4. Parent Tool Kit, How to Prevent Drug Use at Every Age, Partnership for Drug Free Kids. Web.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  • Blyth, D., & Roehlkepartain, E. (1993). Healthy Communities, Healthy Youth: How Communities Contribute to Positive Youth Development. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute.

  • Cleveland, M.; Feinberg, M.; Bontempo, D.; Greenberg, M. The Role of Risk and Protective Factors In Substance Use Across Adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health 2008, 43, 157-164.

  • Hawkins, J.; Catalano, R.; Miller, J. Risk and Protective Factors For Alcohol and Other Drug Problems In Adolescence and Early Adulthood: Implications For Substance Abuse Prevention. Psychological Bulletin 1992, 112, 64-105.

  • Inaba, Darryl and William E. Cohen. Uppers, Downers, All Arounders: Physical and Mental Effects of Psychoactive Drugs. Ashland, Or.: CNS Publications, 2000. 251-252

  • Mangham, C. (2003). Promoting Mental Health and Resilience in British Columbia: Discussion Paper and Annotated Bibliography. Vancouver: Prevention Source BC.

  • McColl, Pamela. On Marijuana, A powerful examinations of what marijuana use means for our children, our communities, and our future. Grafton and Scratch Publisher, 2015.

  • Raphael, B. (1993). Adolescent resilience: the potential impact of personal development in schools. J Paediatr Child Health .

  • Sabet, Kevin A. Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths about Marijuana. New York, NY: Beaufort, 2013.

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Surgeon General, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Washington, DC: HHS, November 2016

  • Vakalahi, H. (2001). Adolescent substance use and family-based risk and protective factors: a literature review. Journal of Drug Education , 31 (1), 29-46