Oregon Department of Justice

Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenblum

Oregon Department of Justice - Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenblum
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Preventing Youth Substance Abuse

Scientific research shows that the most effective way to stop children from using drugs is to educate their parents. In partnership with the Center on Early Adolescence, the Oregon Department of Justice offers some of the following evidence-based tips for parents to help their children succeed. The Center is a collaboration of behavioral science professionals and organizations funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Tips for Parents

Set clear expectations. Make a small number of rules that are easy to understand and then gently but consistently enforce those rules. Teenagers' brains are still developing the ability to control impulses and to think through the consequences of their actions. Clear, consistent rules help them learn self-control. Consequences that are too harsh or inconsistent can backfire and lead to aggression and sneaky behavior. Skilled parents help children and teens deal with distress by remaining consistent and calm even when they are giving their children a negative consequence for misbehaving.

Know what your children are doing every day. When young people are together with little or no supervision, they often encourage risky behaviors in each other. This can be dangerous since young people's brains do not yet have the skills to assess risk the same way adult's brains do.

  • Know where your children are, who is with them, and what they are doing;
  • Check with the parents of your child's friends to make sure that someone is supervising all gatherings;
  • Limit the time your youth spends at home alone, but when it is unavoidable, call your child periodically while he or she is alone;
  • Make sure your children are doing their homework: communicate with their teachers, coaches, and other supervisors to see how they are doing.

Richly reward your children's behavior every chance they get. Children and teens need lots of positive reinforcement as they grow and learn. If adults are not supportive, kids will seek rewards elsewhere: from computer games, risk-taking peers, or substance use. Lack of rewards can also exacerbate afflictions such as ADHD and depression

Stay involved—even when they are teens. Staying involved becomes more difficult as kids develop into teens but it is just as important. Too often, adults let go just when their kids need strong guidance and support. Listen to their concerns, worries, goals, and ideas. Brainstorm with them solutions to problems at home or school. When young people feel ignored, they are more likely to rebel in order to grab attention.

Let them take the lead. Involve youth in lots of activities, projects, games, or other events in your home and in the community but let them direct you. Support, attend, and express interest in your kids' performances, sports, events, projects, and activities even if the subject matter may not be as interesting to you as it is to them. Research shows that parents become more influential in their children's lives when they follow their child's lead in fun activities.

Kids learn from watching others, not from lectures. Successful parents offer their kids lots of opportunities to learn and practice new skills and respond to conflicts by being a good model. The media saturate young adolescents with negative models. Limit their exposure to negative models and make sure they have lots of models that demonstrate skilled and healthy behavior.

Set limits on "screen time" and media content. Electronic media can disrupt youths' social skills, contribute to inactivity, disturb their sleep, expose them to violent or other inappropriate content, and tempt them to engage in risky behavior. Be aware of your child's exposure to TV, video games, and the internet. Experts suggest limiting total screen time to 2-3 hours per day and making R-rated or equivalent media off-limits without your prior scrutiny. Talk to your child about how the values presented in the media fit with your family's values.

Make sure your children get enough sleep. Recent research shows that most youth—especially teens—get too little sleep, which affects their ability to learn and their mood. If your child is not getting enough sleep, it might be a good idea to keep TV, video games, and the internet out of out of their bedroom and set a rule for no phone calls or text messaging after bedtime.

Discuss values, emotions, health, friendships, sexuality, and substance use. Kids want your guidance and wisdom in these matters. Let your kids know you accept and are open to any question about these or other difficult topics. You may feel distress when talking about sensitive topics, but you can listen and guide lovingly, even when you are worried.

Be patient. Accept that you may often feel frustrated or worried when your kids make mistakes but understand that it is also very difficult to grow up. An increase in sex hormones during puberty causes changes in the brain, which makes teens moodier and more irritable. Notice and praise your child for handling anger, frustration, or disappointment well. By showing warmth and acceptance, you can reduce their emotional distress even when they are in a bad mood.

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