As a parent, it can feel overwhelming when faced with the wide variety of risks facing our teens today. There’s no magic bullet to prevent teen addiction, and it can happen to anyone. But you can do everything in your power to help your teen by giving them the tools they need to face these risks head-on. Here are seven tips to help you and your teen (or pre-teen) survive the dangerous minefield of teen addiction.
1. Stay Informed on Current Teen Risks
If you don’t know what your teen is facing when they walk out of your door, you can’t properly arm them with the tools they need to navigate the risks. When you were a teenager, you probably experimented with cigarettes, drinking, and maybe smoking marijuana.
Today’s teens have an entirely different set of addictions facing them, from social media to vaping to prescription pills.
Knowledge is power. Arm yourself with information that is current and correct. Share that information with parents of other teens. The more you know about the dangers and risks facing your child, the better you can arm them with the tools they need to protect themselves.
2. Talk to Your Teen About Addiction
Have conversations with your teens about the risks of addiction and talk to your teen early and often. You can help them better understand the risks of actions they may view as harmless, such as smoking marijuana, vaping, taking prescription pills not meant for them, abusing cough medicines, or even spending too much time online.
When you talk to your teens (and pre-teens) about the dangers of addiction, try and have an information sharing session. Don’t just lecture - talk with your child and listen to what they have to say. Asking them what they think about a news story about legal marijuana that comes on TV. If you drive past a shop that sells e-cigarettes, strike up a conversation about vaping. If you bring home a prescription medicine, go over the dangers, risks, and potential side effects of the medication being misused before you securely lock it up.
3. Set Rules and Enforce Consequences
Be clear and consistent about the rules in your household. Let your teens know what you expect from them and the consequences for breaking your family’s rules. You may consider letting your teens help to establish the rules and consequences for your household, as well.
4. Be an Example
If you have alcohol, tobacco, medicinal marijuana, or prescription pills in your home for your own personal use, be warned: your teen is watching your actions. Abstain from using substances when your teens are home, limit your alcoholic beverage consumption, and use a designated driver anytime you are drinking outside of the home. If you have to take a medication, do so responsibly and don’t misuse your medication. Keep track of how much alcohol or medication is in your home and securely lock up what you can.
5. Encourage Interests and Passions
Teens who are involved in activities they enjoy, excel at, or are passionate about have more to lose – and more motivation to stay away from drugs and alcohol. Encourage your teens to find their passion projects, whether it’s sports, arts, theater, or philanthropy. A teen who is active, fulfilled, and confident in themselves is at less risk of experimenting and misusing drugs.
6. Take Action to Protect Your Teen from Addiction
While you can’t control every aspect of your teen’s world, you can take preventative measures around your own home.
- Lock up medicines so you aren’t an unwitting drug supplier.
- Don’t leave your own alcohol, medicinal marijuana, or tobacco products unlocked or accessible.
- Monitor online activities to the best of your ability.
- Set limits on movies, TV shows, and video games that glorify substance abuse.
- Be on the lookout for paraphernalia and evidence of drug use.
7. Be Vigilant for Signs of Teen Drug Abuse
Watch your teens for signs of substance use or addiction. While each substance may have its own signs, such as dilated blood vessels (aka bloodshot eyes) from marijuana use or constricted pupils from prescription opioid use, many of the signs of teenage drug use are the same.
- Sudden changes in behavior
- Withdrawing from family activities
- Mood swings
- Discarding old friends for a new peer group
- Changes in sleep/ wake patterns
- Loss of interest in hobbies and interests
- Mood swings
- Changes in appearance, hygiene, or weight
You may also want to be aware of the signs of teen depression or other mental health disorders. If your teen is being bullied or cyberbullied, they are more at risk for substance abuse. If your teen is suffering from a mental health disorder, they may also be at higher risk for substance abuse. Watch for extreme sadness, hopelessness, irritability, anger, hostility, and frequent crying in addition to withdrawing from family and friends.
If you suspect that your teen has an addiction or substance abuse problem, seek professional help as soon as possible. Not only for your teen, but also for yourself. Teen addiction can have implications for the entire family, and you may need professional counseling and a support system to help you get through your teen’s addiction.
The unique way that your teen’s brain is developing makes it more susceptible to addiction than an adult’s. To put it simply, the teen brain is primed for addiction. That means you can’t take a wait and see approach to prevention. The smallest amount of experimentation or drug misuse can quickly escalate to teen addiction. Take action and help your teens, and pre-teens, fight back against substance abuse and misuse that can turn into addiction.
Want to know more about the unique risks teens face in today’s modern world? Check out the first blog in our series: From Social Media to Prescription Pills: Today’s Teen Addiction to learn more.