by Stephanie Collier, Project Coordinator, ACPP I, Casa Grande Alliance

The older your child gets, the more a child will start to act on his or her own beliefs and opinions. This is a natural part of growing up, and is necessary for them to become thriving independent adults. Likewise, the conversations between an adult and a child about alcohol and drugs need to mature too. While “Just Say No” might have been enough when they were younger, a conversation with pre-teens and teens needs to go further, like “Say no to drugs, because…” A parent or other caring adult (grandparent, teacher, coach, etc.) then needs to be prepared to finish that sentence with accurate facts about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. For example:

  • Heavy marijuana use by teens is linked to lower grades and exam scores, making them less likely to graduate from high school or college, and less likely to enroll in college.1
  • Nine out of 10 people with substance abuse problems started using by age 18.2

Often, parents think that when their child nears the teen years, they no longer listen to them, and their peers have a greater influence. While this might be true about their fashion choices or favorite bands, statistics show that, when it comes to making decisions about drugs and alcohol, this is not the case. The Journal of Adolescent Health shared research that “suggests that only 19 percent of teens feel that parents should have a say in the music they listen to, and 26 percent believe their parents should influence what clothing they wear. However, the majority—around 80 percent—feel that parents should have a say in whether they drink alcohol. Adolescents do listen to their parents when it comes to issues such as drinking and smoking, particularly if the messages are conveyed consistently and with authority.”3 Local data supports this, as 52 percent of youth in Pinal County said they did not use drugs because they didn’t want to disappoint their parents, and 37.8 percent said it was because they didn’t want to disappoint another adult.4

Proper monitoring is another tool parents can use to lessen the chance that youth get into drug use and other problem behaviors. As youth get older, they want more freedom and independence. Parents can balance giving more freedom and still being in control by knowing “who, what, where and when.” Ask your youth:

  • Who they’re going to be with? You may have a rule about meeting their friends and have their parent’s phone numbers.
  • What will they be doing? Are they going to see a movie, going bowling or some other activity?
  • Where will they be? Are you comfortable with them being without a responsible adult, or do you want them to have some supervision?
  • When will they return home? Make sure the time frame is appropriate for the activity. For example, if your child wants to go to a movie with a friend, but asks to be gone for five hours, the time frame doesn’t fit the activity and they need to let you know their plans for the rest of that time, or adjust the time frame to be appropriate.

Parents who ask for this information from their child in a calm, conversational manner instead of making the feel like they are being interrogated will have easier, more open communication with their child about this and other things. How will you know if your child is telling you the truth? Periodically checking up to see if your child really doing what they said will let parents know if they can give more freedom or need to withhold privileges.

Another way that parents can monitor their youth is by periodically checking their belongings. Parents should not be hesitant to go through their child’s room, backpack or vehicle. It’s not an invasion of their privacy – you’re doing it because you love them and want to help keep them safe, plus you share responsibility for their choices. Knowing what to look for can also help. Drug paraphernalia can be difficult to spot because it is often designed to look like another common item to escape detection. Parents and caring adults who are not sure what to look for or want more information on drug prevention can contact the Casa Grande Alliance for help at 520-836-5022.

1 MTF Survey; Cobb-Clark et al, 2013; Silins et al  2014; Tucker et al 2005;  Homel et al, 2014; Volkow et al 2014; Fergusson and Boden 2008; Brooks et al 2013.

2 https://www.centeronaddiction.org/addiction-prevention/teenage-addiction. Accessed electronically May 30, 2017.

3 Jackson, C. Perceived legitimacy of parental authority and tobacco and alcohol use during early adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health 31(5):425–432, 2002.

4 2016 Arizona Youth Survey, Reasons for not using in last 30 days among 8, 10 & 12 grades, Pinal County.