Building Skills Beyond Academics for Success
Help your child navigate the social aspects of school by teaching them refusal skills.
Guest Post by Jocelyn Seager, Parent Education Coordinator at the NH Teen Institute
It’s back to school time! For many families, this is the year that they’re not sending a kid back to school but rather, a teenager. If your child is entering this stage of development, you may have already recognized some changes in behavior; they’re seeking more independence, they’re making new and different friends, and they may even appear to be trying on different personas! Along with these changes, there may also be changes in what they’re prioritizing. And as a parent, you may feel your teen isn’t quite listening as well, or maybe they’re spending more time socializing with peers, or maybe even closed off in their room. This is all developmentally normal and to be expected. However, your teen has not stopped listening to you or valuing what you have to say, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. In fact, as they begin exploring and placing more value in their social relationships, your guidance in giving them refusal skills is more important than ever.
As they grow in autonomy, they need a helping hand in how to engage in health promoting behaviors and how to avoid risky behaviors. In the evidence-based course we offer, Staying Connected With Your Teen, parents learn to build warm connections with their teenagers and to keep them engaged with their family and their community. And if you have known someone in the treatment or recovery realm, you may have heard the phrase “sobriety is not the opposite of addiction, it’s connection.” And during adolescence, social connections are a teen’s top priority. This means that while you maintain your connection with your teen, it is important to help prepare them to make healthy choices as they develop their connections with others.
As a prevention community, we have evolved beyond the “just say no” models from the 80’s ad 90’s of teaching youth about drug and alcohol misuse. Teens have more access to information than ever before on the internet, but not all sources are trustworthy or accurate, including their friends or personalities on social media. As a parent, it may be tempting to use scare tactics alone to help your teen understand the severe consequences that can come from drug and alcohol use, whether that’s traffic accidents, cancers, overdoses, and even death. Warnings of these consequences are definitely an important part of educating them, but it’s not the whole picture. Talking with your teen often and clearly about boundaries and family values is another tool to help in their refusal skills. For example, family values may include “we treat our bodies with respect,” “we make healthy choices when dealing with hard feelings,” or “we only take medicine directly prescribed by our doctor.” The latter is important to emphasize as both pills and powders can easily be contaminated by fentanyl, one of the leading causes of overdose deaths in New Hampshire. The important connecting piece here is that the parents also demonstrate these family values with their own actions.
Another element of teaching your adolescent refusal skills is practicing scenarios between the two of you. It may feel funny at first, but practicing what to say can help when it comes time to use these skills with peers. Rather than “just say no,” acknowledge that your teen cares about maintaining their social relationships and standing, even if they don’t want to participate in the same risky behaviors as their friends or peers. Take them through recognizing a risky suggestion by a friend/peer, lead them through questioning the suggestion, name it out loud, state what possible consequences could occur from engaging in that behavior, and have them offer an alternative activity. For example, say a friend offers your teen a drink from their parent’s liquor cabinet. The refusal could look something like “why do you need me to drink with you? We’re not supposed to drink, especially as I’m driving home after this. If either of our parents caught us, we’d be in trouble and I’d probably get some privileges taken away. Do you want to go play XBox instead?” Through this kind of technique, your teen is stating their boundaries, alerting the friend that they’re not interested in that, what trouble could come from that, but still maintains the friendship (if they want) by offering something else they can do together.
Beyond refusal skills, there are many other ways to help decrease the likelihood of your teenager engaging in risky behaviors, and most of them center on making your teen feel valued and appreciated. Actively listening to them, getting to know who their friends are, giving them more responsibilities, and valuing their input on making family decisions are all ways at home to help as they explore and learn in this new stage of development. And finally, engage in your local communities together and remember to have fun! Even if they roll their eyes.
The New Hampshire Teen Institute (NHTI) offers life-changing, experiential camps and workshops aimed at empowering NH teens to lead healthy lifestyles and create stronger communities through community-focused prevention. By building relationships and a rapport with the teens and giving them up-to-date information about the effects of alcohol and drug use, NHTI targets the factors that lead to underage drinking and drug use. The programs seek to improve communication, build positive relationships, enhance self-awareness, increase personal and social responsibility, help teens serve as role models for their peers, and prevent alcohol use, drug use, and high-risk behaviors.
Jocelyn Seager is the current Parent Education Coordinator for NH Teen Institute (NHTI). She has been dedicated to NHTI’s mission since she was first a participant in their programming in 2001, serving multiple roles over the years including being an AmeriCorps VISTA member, a board member, and board President. She’s excited to finally work with the parents and families of the teens that she loves working with. Jocelyn lives in Manchester, NH and loves visiting friends and family around the state whenever possible, especially her niece.