As our children gain more independence, make new friends, and spend more time outside of the home with their friends and doing extracurricular activities (which is an important part of healthy adolescent development), it is natural to wonder if we’ve prepared them to make good decisions — Good decisions about bike safety, strangers, conflict with a friend, or intimate relationships, and about: alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs.
Even when it seems we see our children less and less, it is important to remember that parents are the #1 influence on the choices their children make! What you say and do is extremely important and it is not enough to say to yourself, “My kid is a good kid. They wouldn’t drink.”
Good, open communication is the foundation for a healthy relationship.
Often we find talking with our teenager impossible! This approach can make all the difference.
Practice Active Listening or Empathic Listening (It truly does take practice!)
- Be present. Put away your cell phone or tablet. Turn off the TV. Stop cooking dinner. Show your teen that you are focused on them. Make eye contact and use body language to show you are open and available.
- Listen for details and soak in the information. Focus on the present and avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. Avoid making judgements about the situation or the people involved.
- Ask open ended questions. “How did you feel when that happened? What do you think they were trying to tell you? Tell me more about that. What did that look like?”
- Restate what you heard to show that you were listening and to make sure you understood correctly. “It seems like you’re feeling …” or “ Am I right that you were feeling ….” or “I want to make sure I understand….”
- Encourage your child to problem solve. As parents, we often want to fix problems or tell our kids what the right thing to do is. This can be a roadblock in communication. We can empower our kids to problem solve and find solutions by simply asking: What do you want to do about this situation? How can we make this better? What do you think you should do next?
Manage your emotions. Only talk when you are calm and can be open to listen to your child.
Talk Often With Your Kids about Important Topics
- This resource has more examples of communication skills and even has video examples of ineffective communication and positive effective communication.
Kids who learn about the risks of alcohol and other drugs from their parents are less likely to use.
- Have regular discussions from an early age with consistent and age appropriate messages about the risks of alcohol and other drugs.
- Plan what you want to say.
- Practice how you will respond to tough questions and if you don’t have the answer say let’s find the information together.
- Find teachable moments.
- Teach your child how to turn down alcohol and other drugs.
- Get more tips for talking with your child.
Be Involved In Your Kid’s Life
Kids are less likely to use drugs when they have relationships with caring adults they trust.
- Listen to your child. Ask about things they enjoy doing.
- Be empathetic about problems with friends.
- When your child seems angry or upset, start a conversation with an observation like “you seem sad” or “you seem stressed.” and practice Active Listening (above).
- Have dinner (can’t do dinner? How about breakfast?) together at least four times a week. This doesn’t have to be a fancy meal, eating together sends the message that they are important to you and you want to spend time with them. It also opens opportunities for conversation and checking in on what is going on in your lives.
- Get to know your child’s friends and their parents.
- When your child is going to someone’s house, make sure an adult will be home.
Encourage your child to call any time they feel uncomfortable and want to leave a situation. This can be hard at certain stages of their lives and with certain friends, so creating a code emoji or code word can help. Read more about this strategy.
Support Your Child’s Involvement in Activities
Kids who pursue their interests and dreams are less likely to try alcohol and drugs.
What makes your child tick? What do they “get lost” in? What’s their spark? Providing opportunities for your children to pursue their interests is important. It helps with identity development, building skills, and self-confidence. Sometimes what interests them doesn’t line up with what we are interested in or what we wish they were interested in. It is important that we follow their interests and provide opportunities for them to engage deeply in activities they enjoy.
You might think, “My child has no interests, except being on her phone or playing video games.” Have them teach you about an app or how to play their favorite game. Are they interested in learning how to develop apps? Make a video game? Connect them to the resources that can help them learn this skill. Find what interests them and help them to pursue it. This will show that you care and provide more opportunities for positive conversations that can strengthen your relationship.
Depending where you live and what your child is interested in, it may be difficult to find opportunities for them. It may take a little digging. Time and money can also be factors. Don’t give up! Many programs offer financial assistance, as do local civic organizations. Ask your child’s guidance counselor and school principal, too, for opportunities available.
VolunteerNH is a great place to explore the many opportunities for youth and families to volunteer and get involved in their communities. In addition, ask your local faith community and charitable organizations how you can get involved. Is there a specific area your child is interested in? Animals? Elderly? Finding an organization whose mission is in-line with your child’s values and interests is important.
See what is happening at your local Parks and Recreation office.
Check out your local public library. They offer a variety of activities and programs for all ages.
Reach out to your Regional Public Health Network to see what resources are available locally.
Also, the Youth and Family Field Specialists at UNH Cooperative Extension know about the many opportunities available for young people around the state. Reach out to see what is happening in your area.
ParentingNH has a wealth of information about what is available throughout the state.
New Hampshire is home to many wonderful summer camps where youth can explore interests, try new things, and meet new friends!
It can take time and effort to find opportunities for our kids to discover their interests, but when you see them take off and follow their passion, it will all be worth it!
Your child may not have that passion yet. They may not know what they are really interested in. Help them explore. Look for opportunities in your community such as:
- Community Service – Volunteering and getting involved in the community gives a sense of purpose, and expands your child’s awareness of the world.
- Sports – Keeping active in sports provides physical, mental and emotional benefits, and helps a child from developing self-mastery and building skills for team work..
- Art, Drama and Music – Creative self expression and with friends who have similar interests can help a child develop a talent(s) and increase self-confidence.
Be Clear About Your Expectations, Establish Rules and Follow Through
You can build trust with your child and help them make healthy choices by having clear and consistent expectations, rules, and consequences.
Set your expectations. Tell them it is not okay to drink or do drugs because:
- It‘s against the law.
- You’re still growing and your brain is still developing. Alcohol and drugs has been proven to affect your memory, your ability to learn, and can permanently damage your brain.
- Doing drugs and drinking when you’re a teen makes you more likely to become addicted.
- You are more likely to make a decision you will regret when you are drinking or getting high, such as getting in a car, getting in a fight, or having sex.
- Kids who drink are more likely to try other drugs.
Establish the rules and follow through.
- Talk to your child about rules at a time when you both are calm. Clearly explain the rules, for example what time they must come home, and the consequence for breaking the rule.
- Build a trusting relationship with respect and consistency. Reinforce the behavior you want. When your child follows all the rules consistently, allow them some flexibility to negotiate the one rule that they would most like to change (curfew, bedtime, etc).
- Follow through with consequences. Uphold your rules and rules set by the school and community. When your child has a consequence for not following a rule, help them understand why, and discuss what they can do differently in the future.
Be a Role Model
Kids imitate adults.
- If you decide to drink alcohol, do it in moderation, defined as up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.
- Show them that you always designate a non-drinking driver for safety and never drink and drive.
Don’t use illegal drugs.
- Use prescription as prescribed by your health care professional and use over-the-counter legal drugs safely.
Encourage Your Child to Strive to do their Best in School
Kids who perform well in school are less likely to become involved with alcohol and drugs.
- Encourage improvements in grades and in good work.
- Make sure your child has a quiet place to do homework.
- Coach your child on effective ways to ask teachers for help and advice.
Parenting Support Resources
While these actions are everyday things we can do, it isn’t always so easy. Many factors can make taking these steps difficult. You are not alone! There are local and national resources that can support our parenting and help support our children!
Online and in person options to help strengthen communication with your child:
New Hampshire Teen Institute‘s parent programming, specifically Staying Connected with Your Teen.
In Derry, The Upper Room provides support and resources for parents.
Family Check Up is an online article with example videos on each of the above topics.
The Center for Parenting Education has great resources for everything parenting, including communication.
Partnership for Drug Free Kids has communication tips and a parent support hotline.
Addiction affects everyone. As a concerned family member, you may be looking for resources to help someone you love. There is immediate help and information available in New Hampshire.
You are not alone. You are never far from help. The Doorway connects NH residents to help and services in NH for any alcohol or drug issue.
is the connection for NH residents to the most up to date resources they need from specially trained Information and Referral Specialists. If you or someone you know is experiencing an addiction-related crisis, call 211 now.
Drugs & Alcohol
This organization helps families in addressing every aspect of substance use and addiction, from prevention to recovery. This organization empowers parents and caregivers with support and guidance using the latest science-based information as well as advancing effective prevention and treatment strategies.
Peer pressure to try drugs can feel intense for many adolescents. We need to prepare our kids to refuse offers of alcohol and other drugs–preferably without alienating their peers. This resource from health care providers gives parents multi-age information on sex, drugs, alcohol and other issues parents may be facing.
Find information for people struggling with drug abuse, as well as resources for their families and friends. This website also offers guidance in seeking drug abuse treatment and lists five important questions to ask when searching for a treatment program and presents principles of addiction treatment for a variety of drugs that can inform drug treatment programs and services.
These online resources are aimed specifically at parents of adolescents and young adults. Here you can find a one-page reference sheet to parents looking for additional information, including online resources, support groups, peer networks, helplines, treatment locators, and advocacy opportunities.
SAMHSA National Helpline, also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service, is a free, confidential, 24 hour a day, 365 days a year treatment referral and information service for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. Services are available in English and Spanish.
If you or someone you know needs help finding treatment or information on mental and/or substance use, please call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Teen Brain & Addiction
In this course, you will learn how to protect your teenager’s health, life, and future through a series of brief videos demonstrating the effects of adolescent substance use on the developing brain. You also will learn practical tips on how to keep your teen safe.
The Addiction Policy Forumhas developed a series of videos to explain how addition happens and works towards ending stigma.
Tobacco & Vaping
E-cigarettes are very popular with young people. Their use has grown dramatically in the last five years. Today, more high school students use e-cigarettes than regular cigarettes. The use of e-cigarettes is higher among high school students than adults. Nicotine exposure during adolescence and young adulthood can cause addiction and harm the developing brain.
The New Hampshire Quitline, QuitNow-NH offers free help with quitting all types of tobacco and nicotine products.
My Life, My Quit shares the truth about nicotine, vaping and other tobacco products. Help for teens who decide they want to quit vaping. Text “Start My Quit” to 855.891.9989 or call to talk with a coach who is ready to listen and cheer you on.
Smoke Free Teen has nicotine quitting resources including text, chat, an app and more. Developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Truth Initiative strives to expose Big Tobacco’s lies and manipulation as well as spreading awareness about the opioid epidemic. Youth can get empowered and involved or also get help quitting vaping/tobacco with the ThisIsQuitting app.
1 Hawkins JD, Catalano RF, Miller JY. Risk and protective factors for alcohol and other drug problems in adolescence and early adulthood: implications for substance abuse prevention. Psychology Bull. 1992 Jul;112(1):64-105. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.112.1.64. PMID: 1529040.
2 Benson, P. L., Roehlkepartain, E. C., & Sesma, A. Jr. (2004, March). Tapping the power of community: The potential of asset building to strengthen substance abuse prevention. Search Institute Insights & Evidence.