You need to speak to your teen about this now, before high-risk behaviour turns to drug or alcohol addictions.
Many addictions start when people are teenagers. Frequently, alcoholics have had their first drink before the age of 16, according to one study. Teenagers who started drinking before the age of 15 were four times more likely to report alcohol dependence during their lives. The choices teenagers make, particularly those which are harmful, can have a profound effect on the rest of their lives.
Considering the importance of making healthy decisions as a teenager, it is important to examine how to influence young people to avoid addiction. With the attempts at health education in schools meeting with limited success, experts now suggest that parents step up and take on the role of educating their own children about the dangers of addiction.
For many parents, it may be challenging to educate their children about addiction, when around 60% have themselves tried an illegal substance. But this is just what experts say we must do, since parents still have a significant influence on their children’s behaviour. In fact, when considering the options available to help children make healthy choices, the one choice that parents have the most control over is their own behaviour and the message they send to their offspring. So how can parents influence their children?
The key is to talk openly about your expectations, your values, and about the dangers of addiction. Sounds simple, but many parents feel uncomfortable about discussing what can be a sensitive topic. Over half, according to one study, don’t consider their child to be at risk.
Experts agree that genetics is the best predictor of addiction. In addition to genetic predisposition, other factors have been identified:
- Mental health problems, including mood disorders such as anxiety and depression
- Significantly negative events and traumatic experiences
- Friends or peers who use substances
However, since it is impossible to predict which specific children have the highest risk of addiction; it is important to have a frank discussion with every young person.
One common approach used when discussing the dangers of drug use is to scare young people. While it is useful and appropriate to point out the risks and consequences of drug use, it is also helpful to focus on short-term, personal negative outcomes. For example, discuss how it will affect their school performance, their ability to play sports, or the risk of getting into an accident.
In order to set up a proper home environment in which meaningful discussion can occur, it is important to:
- Set expectations which have been mutually agreed upon
- Model the expectations you have agreed to
- Model positive communication and speak to your children the way you would like to be spoken to
- Share the values which are important to you in your family
One last point to consider is the use of prescription medication, such as painkillers, for non-medical purposes. Many parents (20-30%, according to some studies) report having used painkillers for recreational uses, and may even offer them to their children. This is a danger, as addiction to painkillers runs the same dangers as illegal drug use.