Too important to wait!
If you follow my blog, you know I usually post by mid-morning on Mondays (because yes, I am anal retentive I self-impose my own deadline). Anyways, I just finished a project for my PSY492 class (essentially the last big psych class before I graduate) and I feel compelled to share what I learned with you because it is a topic very close to my heart.
The focus of my research and review centered around this question: What are the common parental traits which contribute to an adolescent's use or abstinence from alcohol and drugs? I had to use at least 10 peer reviewed sources. I found 12 good ones and quit after that because although I am sure I could have found many more, I needed to actually read through and interpret the findings before writing the paper.
Before I share what I found, let me say we all know drugs and alcohol have been and will continue to be a part of life. In my opinion, there is no banishing, only managing. That being said, what can we (as parents, community members, mentors) do to create a better environment?
1. Environmental factors (such as family dysfunction...strained marriages, strained parent/child relationships...) are influential for the timing of the initiation of substance use, but genetic factors (having a parent who has a substance abuse disorder) are more influential in accelerating the progression from initiation of use to heavier use.
2. The younger the initiation of drugs and alcohol, the greater the potential to use heavily.
3. Parental modeling plays a big role in what kids do (you know the old saying, "Monkey see, monkey do"). Saying one thing (Don't drink/do drugs) and doing another causes kids to feel like you are a hypocrite and may even prompt them to be more willing to give them a try. This is not to say parents shouldn't drink alcohol, but as role models it is important to do so in a responsible manner. I won't insult your intelligence by going into interpreting "responsible".
4. Children who feel loved, understood, and paid attention to by parents help teenagers avoid high-risk activities, whether a child has one or both parents at home. The total amount of time spent with the child is less important than the quality of time spent together. Particularly at mealtimes and bedtime.
5. The time to talk about your views on drugs and alcohol is now. (Yes, even if you're reading this and you have a 5-year-old).
6. Lock up alcohol and pain medication. As teens get older, emotional distress increases due to academics, social pressure, and independence, which may contribute to the temptation of substance use.
7. Studies show the best parenting style is to employ authoritative tactics, characterized by warmth and support combined with rules and control. The other, polar opposite ends of the spectrum (permissive and authoritarian), have the potential to land you right where you don't want to be.
8. I honestly only read one study that included religion and it's effect on parenting and teen substance use, so this was not a huge focus for me, but the study did conclude active participation in regular church programs and services had a positive impact not only on family relationships, but on teen behavior and decision-making as well.
If you've stayed with me this long, you know none of the eight above items comes as an epiphany. My conclusion to this is over and over and over again we hear the same things...love your kiddo for who they are, PAY ATTENTION TO THEM, listen without criticism and with respect, set rules and boundaries...STICK TO THEM. Talk with other parents regularly if you don't know what the boundaries should be (although here I am suggesting you get ideas, not that you totally adopt someone else's house rules...each family is different, just be informed as to what's going on around you).
I share these things because as a parent who has been down this road, and continues to have a long stretch ahead of her, it is never too late to learn and it is never to late to ramp up your game. As much as they might kick and scream about it, our kids are depending on us to blaze the right trail for them.