Teens face many temptations as part of the normal growing up process. Driving a bit faster, staying up all night with friends, and even experimenting with harmful substances are alluring ways to flex their developing “grown-up muscles.”
Vaping, smoking, and using drugs or alcohol may seem cool, enjoyable, or even harmless, but they can have devastating effects as a teen continues to mature physically. Although these temptations are very common, saying “no” is one of the best decisions your child will ever make because it will maximize the chances of having a great life.
Protective factors are characteristics that are present in a young person’s life that help protect the chances and create a resistance to the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. While it’s not possible to wrap a teen in bubble wrap or build a wall around them for protection, parents, teachers and trusted adults play a hug role in building protective factors around youth.
Educate your teen. Teach them the harms that vaping, smoking, drugs and alcohol can have on physical and mental health. Teens should know that up to 90 percent of people with a substance use disorder began to use drugs, alcohol, or tobacco before the age of 18. Also, it is important to avoid people who vape, smoke or use drugs and alcohol. People who do these things will try to influence others to use drugs too!
Be available to talk with your teen. You can even start the conversation. And having another trusted adult get involved in the message is great! Positive role models will listen and help teens through both the good times and the bad.
Encourage your teen to participate in activities. Have them get involved at school, in community, church, or at home. Physical activities and social interactions will keep them happy and healthy! Obviously, social distancing will be important, right now, so keep that in mind when you are looking for activities.
Teach your teen to manage stress. Things like going for a walk, exercising, listening to music, meditating, or speaking with someone about what is going on can lower anxiety.
Build positive self-efficacy and develop self-control, which will give teens the confidence to make choices for themselves. These skills also help them make good decisions and be successful in relationships and life in general. Instead of making decisions based on what others are doing, teach your teen to make decisions based on what is best for him or her and hang around with true friends that accept them for who they are and only want what is best for them.
It’s always best to avoid situations where drugs and alcohol will be present. However, these situations may sometimes come unexpectedly, so always have an exit plan in place
Build resistance skills in your teen. Encourage them to say “no” when someone asks to join in on vaping, smoking, drinking, or using drugs. Sometimes, saying “no” is enough and you will not be asked again.
But teach young people that, if “no” is not enough find a way out.
They can say they don’t want to feel lousy or have a hangover for an important activity the next day (like a sports practice or game, recital, or test). They can fake being busy like dancing or talking on the phone.
Have an emergency code with your teen. Identify a word or even just a letter that your teen would text you to signal “come pick me up” when they are in an uncomfortable situation. In the meantime, tell him or her to just leave if they are still being pressured. This may include leaving friends behind if those friends choose to stay.
The teen years can be tough, rough, impulsive, confusing, tempting, dangerous, and many other things that challenge a young person’s health and well-being. Protective factors can help build a virtual wall to protect them. Parents and other adults are the brick masons to build that wall.
Hugh Gray is the executive director at Westview Behavioral Health Services and can be reached at 803-276-5690.
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