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10 Tips to Prevent Teen Chemical Use

As parents, we want our children to lead healthy, happy, and productive lives. We know that alcohol and other drug use can be a barrier to children transitioning successfully into adulthood.

So what can we do to prevent our kids from using drugs?

Obviously there is no sure-fire way to ensure our kids will never touch a drug in their teen years – or even in their lifetime. However, here are 10 things parents and caregivers CAN do that have been shown to minimize that worrisome possibility:


1- Approach through conversation
Conversations with our kids isn’t about lecturing and instilling fear. It’s about inviting conversation about the pressures and influences our children encounter when it comes to alcohol and other drugs, actively listening to their perspectives, and guiding and supporting them as they develop their moral compass for decision-making.

2- Relationship is key

At the forefront of prevention is cultivating a warm and involved relationship with your child: being engaged with them on a regular basis. Simply listening to our kids and learning about their interests is a critical piece of building a strong relationship. There are many opportunities to be engaged as a parent – celebrating birthdays, helping with homework, going for a walk, shopping, driving, and going to athletic and other school events together.

3- Eat together whenever possible

A comfortable, natural way to express interest in our children’s lives and encouraging conversation is by having dinner together each night. If that’s not possible, set a realistic number such as three nights a week. In fact, the research indicates that the more often children eat dinner with their parents/guardians, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use drugs.

Stuck in a dinner rut? Choosemyplate.gov/ offers recipes, plus tips and tools for eating healthy on a budget.

4- Talk early, talk often

Research has shown that as parents, we are the most influential source of information our children have. Talking about smoking cigarettes, vaping, drinking alcohol, and using other drugs is what’s most likely to make a difference in whether your child gets into these things. Parents have the most influence before their kid starts using.

It’s ideal to start talking to our kids at a young age and continue the conversation. This way it’s an ongoing dialogue as opposed to a single event that’s checked off the list of “talks” to have.

5- Know it’s not too late

If your kid is in their teens, and you haven’t started a dialogue about drugs and alcohol – this is perfect time to start. Study after study shows that even during teen years, parents have enormous influence on their children’s behavior. Use news events, TV shows, or real life occurrences as teaching opportunities. Excellent resources on specific tips for these conversations can be found at Kids Health and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

6- Set limits and supervision

Our kids will likely not verbalize this, but rules and boundaries make kids feel loved and secure. Thus, it’s important to set realistic expectations for your child’s behavior.

Ensure your child understands the rules, establish appropriate consequences for breaking rules, and be ready to follow through. Research shows that parents are most effective in setting limits when they follow up right away. Youth are more likely to follow rules if they know parents are checking up on them and will enforce consequences consistently.

7- Honor and model healthy choices

Being a parent sure makes us aware of our own behavior. Our kids will be more affected by what they see us do than what they hear us say. If we do drink or use marijuana – whether in front of our kid or not – they are likely going to call us out on this. Use it as an opportunity to reflect on your own patterns and reasons for using such as ‘Am I modeling drinking in response to stress?’

8- Focus on your child

Perhaps your kid will ask if you used as a kid. Whether your answer is yes or no, focus the discussion on your child and why they’re asking. Make it about how their choices about substance use will affect their future. Before disclosing anything, find out why your child is asking the question. ‘What makes you ask? Did you see or hear something that made you wonder if I ever smoked pot?’

9- Trust your instincts

There’s no hard and fast rule about how you should answer your kid’s question about your own history of use. What to tell your child varies from family to family – it depends on the situation of the child (age, risk factors), and the experience of parents.

Trust your instincts and use your own style in carrying out some of the approaches above. Remember, don’t underestimate your power as a parent – parents are the messengers that their children are likeliest to listen to.

10- Get support

If you have concerns or knowledge about your child’s chemical use, YSB can help through a variety of early-intervention services. From Chemical Awareness and Teen Intervene programs to Counseling, just call 651-439-8800 to get connected to the right approach for your family and situation. Find more at ysb.net.


Article by:
Julia Geigle, M.S.W, LGSW, CPP
YSB Chemical Health Prevention Specialist