Everything You Wanted To Say To Your Middle Schooler, But Didn’t Know How-Part IV

By Philippe Rey, Psy. D.

Executive Director of Adolescent Counseling Services

So now that we have a good idea about what is really going on with drugs and alcohol, let’s look at more ways we can help our teens. As I mentioned last week, as parents your task is to encourage choice. That means that you need to allow your child plenty of opportunity to become a confident decision-maker. An 8-year-old is capable of deciding if she wants to invite lots of friends to her birthday party or just a close pal or two. A 12-year-old can choose whether she wants to go out for chorus or join the school band. As your child becomes more skilled at making all kinds of good choices, both you and she will feel more secure in her ability to make the right decision concerning alcohol and drugs, if and when the time arrives.

The second task for a parent, as it pertains to the topic of drugs and alcohol, is to provide age-appropriate information for your children. Make sure the information that you offer fits the child’s age and developmental stage. Here are some examples:

  1. When your 6 or 7-year-old is brushing his teeth, you can say, “There are lots of things we do to keep our bodies healthy, like brushing our teeth. But there are also things we shouldn’t do because they hurt our bodies, like smoking or taking medicines when we are not sick”.
  2. If you are watching TV with your 10 year-old and marijuana is mentioned on a program, you can say, “Do you know what marijuana is? It’s a bad drug that can hurt your body.”

If your child has more questions, answer them. If not, let it go. Short, simple comments said and repeated often enough will get the message across. As your child grows older, you can offer him/her the same message, but add more drug-specific information. For example, you might explain to your 12-year-old what marijuana and crack look like, their street names and how they can affect the body.

Let’s keep in mind that your main task as parents is to build self-esteem in your children. It is a given that kids who feel good about themselves are much less likely to turn to illegal substances, get high, or engage in risky behaviors. As parents, we can do many things to enhance our child’s self-image. Here are some good examples:

  • Offer lots of praise for any job well done.
  • If you need to criticize your child, talk about the action, not the person. Example: If your son gets a math problem wrong, it’s better to say, “I think you added this wrong. Let’s try again.
  •  Assign do-able chores. A 6-year-old can bring her plate over to the sink after dinner; a 12-year-old can feed and walk the dog after school. Performing such duties and being praised for them helps your child feel good about themselves.
  •  Spend one-on-one time with your teens. Setting aside at least 15 uninterrupted minutes per child per day to talk, play a game, or take a walk together, lets them know you care.
  • Say, “I love you,” as often as you can! Nothing will make your child feel better.