Teens and alcohol and drugs

An article by Principal Clinical Psychologist, Colby Pearce.

Drug and alcohol consumption amongst teens is of significant concern to a great many parents.

Parents are often desperate for good quality information and guidance about how they should manage this issue with their own teens.

After watching a locally-produced video on the issue I feel compelled to share some of my thoughts here as a professional and a parent of teens.

My first thought is that I am still the most significant role model my sons have. They look to me for an example of what it is to be a man and a father. They observe my activities and behaviour and form ideas about my beliefs and attitudes.

Whether they adopt the same or similar beliefs and attitudes rests, in large part, on my second thought. The relationship I have with my sons is the single biggest determinant of whether they will accept or reject my beliefs, attitudes and example of what it is to be a man and a father. Without a strong and true relationship; that is, a relationship where they experience me as being sensitive and understanding about their thoughts, feelings and experiences; my sons are unlikely to accept my example and the ideas and values that underpin it.

My third thought is that independence, and independent-thinking and decision-making, are important developmental tasks of the teen years, as they prepare for adulthood. Though every fibre of my being would like to take all decision-making out of their hands when it comes to such issues as their exposure to drug and alcohol-use at gatherings of their peers, I realise that in order to preserve a strong and influential relationship with my teens I need to offer them the experience that I trust them to make sensible decisions. This is my fourth thought.

I also need them to believe that they can make sensible decisions about what is best for them and our family.

My final thought, at least as far as this article goes, is that sensible decision-making by our teens that is consistent with the values of our family stems from the parenting we have offered them throughout their lives. Parenting that places the relationship at the centre of all endeavour is the key here.

For practical strategies for developing and maintaining strong and influential relationships with your children, my articles entitled “In order to be heard we first need to listen”, “Why punishment is problematic” and “Three loving parental acts that enhance child wellbeing” are a good place to start. They all appear on the securestart.com.au website. For more detailed information, I would refer you to my book, A Short Introduction to Promoting Resilience in Children.

An encore thought: unless our teens experience us putting ourselves in their shoes, we cannot reasonably expect them to consider our experience of the consequences of their decision-making. And, after all, consideration of our experience is probably the first thing we would like them to think about when they make their decisions.