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Parenting can be a challenge, especially working out the best way to help your child grow up. Most young people want a good relationship with their family, even if they don't show it.
As they grow up they are figuring out who they are and finding a place in their family and community. They may try to be independent, but they still need you. Show them you care and are interested in what is happening in their life. Try not to interrupt them when they are speaking, and check you have understood them before you speak.
At some point, your child will make a decision about using alcohol and other drugs. Many young people in New Zealand choose to try it, some of them will get into difficulties because of it, and a few will develop long term problems. There are things you can do as a family to guide your young person and reduce the chance of their running into difficulties or developing long term problems.
People use alcohol and other drug to relax, reward themselves, or avoid feelings. Young people will observe and learn from this behaviour as it happens around them, therefore it is important to do fun things with them without alcohol or drugs.
Starting a conversation about alcohol and other drugs is more important than the outcome of the conversation.
You can use current events to bring up the topic. For example, if drug use is shown on TV, ask your child or young person what they think about it. Listen, and correct any incorrect information. Parents of primary school-aged children tell us this approach worked for them, and they were surprised at how much their children had already seen or heard.
Listen to what they have to say. Try not to interrupt or have a strong reaction. Having an early, rational conversation gives your young person confidence that if something comes up, they can speak to you.
Learning about control, testing and setting boundaries is part of growing up. Some parents help their young people learn these skills by discussing ‘softer’ and ‘harder’ boundaries. Softer boundaries are when they should be thinking, “I should stop now,” and harder boundaries are when they should be thinking, “I never want to get here.”
Conversations with young people are a chance for them to ask for help from parents or other family members. It is the chance to set clear expectations, with realistic consequences if those expectations are broken. This is especially important for younger children, who are just beginning to develop more control over what they do.
Sometimes young people are well attuned to hearing when we think they can do better, and not as when we are proud of them. A New Zealand study found that many young people who had difficulties with alcohol and other drugs thought they would have stayed in school or had less problems if they knew someone cared about them.
If young people are learning about drinking by observing adult behavior, they are learning the wrong indicators. Teenage bodies handle alcohol differently from adult bodies. They are less sensitive to the physical indicators of being drunk such as slurring words and swaying.
If a teenager is slurring words or swaying, monitor them closely and possibly seek medical help, they are already in the later stages of drunkenness. For some young people, drinking under supervision can build false confidence, meaning they drink more than they otherwise would in unsupervised and less safe situations.
How you approach this issue depends on their age, the amount they are using, and the type of drug. Not all drug use results in harm or leads to addiction. Take some time, think about what you want to say, be as calm as possible when you start the conversation. Sometimes speaking to someone else first can support you to plan what is most important for you to say.
Do not start a conversation with a young person when they are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. It can help to let them know you want to speak to them, and give them time to think and manage their emotions before talking. Most importantly make sure you let them know you care, and that is the main point they take away from the conversation.
We will soon have more information to help you plan for a conversation with your children about drugs and alcohol.