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Family Therapy

RSM Family Therapy

Strong Parenting Skills Help Keep Kids Drug Free


How can you keep drugs or alcohol from becoming your child’s extracurricular activity of choice? Psychologist Rosemarie Moser talks about why kids use drugs and shares some ways parents can help their children make the right choices.


At what age do kids start using drugs and alcohol?

"While drug and alcohol abuse has lessened slightly, the age at which use begins is lower than ever. A recent survey showed that 30 percent of children between the ages of 12-17 had tried illegal drugs," says Dr. Moser. (With adolescents, alcohol is the most widely used of all drugs.) "Experimentation with drugs, alcohol and cigarettes cuts across all ethnic, geographic and social class backgrounds," continues Dr. Moser. "Kids who turn to drugs often don’t function well in school, have lower grades, high truancy rates and exhibit rebellious behavior. They have limited contact with adults and, often, their parents and peers abuse drugs and alcohol."


Some, but not all, kids turn to drugs. Why?

"Kids get involved in drugs to avoid or escape their problems. Peer pressure is a major factor. Drugs and alcohol help them feel socially more at ease, relaxed, less tense. Kids get a false sense of power and control from drugs—they fell more ‘adult,’" says Dr. Moser. "But lack of self-esteem may be the most significant reason why kids give into peer pressure and start using drugs."


Why is self-esteem so important?

"Adolescents and teenagers go through so many physical and emotional changes as they mature, and often define themselves in terms of their peers. But self-confident teens are better able to ignore social pressures. There’s less need to thrive on someone else’s opinions," states Dr. Moser.


How can we help our children stay drug-free?

"Parenting skills are one of the best anti-drug tactics," stresses Dr. Moser. Here’s a checklist.

  • Be consistent. Set realistic, not rigid, limits and stick to them. Parents or caregivers shouldn’t undermine each other—present a united front and kids will grow up feeling more safe, secure, and confident.

  • Communicate effectively and assertively. Children need accessible parents and the security and structure of home as they struggle towards adulthood.

  • Teach responsibility. Start when kids are young with simple chores and expect more as they get older. Grant more decision-making power as their abilities increase.

  • Provide positive reinforcement. Don’t be too critical. If you want kids to change their behavior, support their attempts.

  • Set a clear example. If your attitudes about drinking and drug use aren’t clear, if you abuse drugs or alcohol or tolerate it in others, you’re sending the wrong kind of message. Remember, you are role models for your children’s present and future behaviors.

  • Show your love. Listen to your children. Let them know they can turn to you for help instead of using drugs for escape.


"Raise your child to feel secure, competent, and self-reliant and they’ll be able to trust their own decision-making capabilities," stresses Dr. Moser.

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