At this age, the focus is on creating a healthy beginning and fostering positive social, emotional, and moral development that will extend through your child’s lifespan. According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, effective prevention focuses on intervening early in a child’s development before problems develop.

Young people this age can begin to deal with abstractions and the future. They understand their actions have consequences and they know how their behavior affects others. They sometimes have a shaky self-image: they are not sure whether they are growing and changing adequately, are often in conflict with adults, are not sure where they are headed and tend to see themselves as not "okay." Strong emotional support and healthy adult role models are particularly important now to discuss the negative results of underage drinking and using drugs.

Set clear rules and role model good behavior

Encourage healthy eating and talk to your child about the joys of healthy living.

Part of drug-resistance education is learning to put healthy substances into our bodies. Provide your child with healthy food choices and let your child see you living a healthy lifestyle. Take advantage of everyday teachable moments and provide opportunities for your child to experience healthy living. When grocery shopping, allow your child to select healthy foods, observe you reading food labels (know what you are putting into your body), help prepare meals, or let them grow some garden vegetables.

Discuss how good you feel when you take care of yourself — how you can run, jump, play and work for many hours. A great conversation starter: "I'm glad I'm healthy because I can.." or "Vegetables make you grow strong.."

Avoiding peer pressure

Help your child steer clear of dangerous substances that exist in his/her immediate world.

Teach your child the difference between poison, medicine, and food. Point out poisonous and harmful chemicals commonly found in homes, such as bleach, kitchen cleansers and furniture polish. Read the products' warning labels out loud to your child. Explain that medicines can help you feel better but can also hurt you and that drugs from the doctor help the person the doctor gives them to but that they can harm someone else. Medicine for children is often fruit-flavored, just like candy, so it is important to teach your child the difference…that medicine is different from candy or food even if it tastes like cherries or grapes. Explain that s/he should only eat or smell food or take a prescribed medicine that Mom or Dad, a relative, or other known caregivers and trusted adults give to them.

Giving your child a daily vitamin.

What to Say
Vitamins help your body grow. You need to take them every day so that you’ll grow up big and strong like Mommy and Daddy—but you should only take what I give you. Too many vitamins can hurt you and make you sick.

Giving medication to your child or when your child observes you taking your medication.

What to Say
Sometimes the doctor gives you medicine to make you feel better when you are sick. Medicine is very strong and we take it only if the doctor tells us to. The doctor gives you medicine that is special and only for you so you shouldn’t take medicine that was made for someone else or you can get very sick.

Vitamins and medicines can sometimes look like candy and taste fruity like candy. Even if it tastes like strawberry, cherry, banana, or grape or looks like candy, it is medicine and can hurt you if you take too much or take it when you aren't sick.

Your kids are curious about medicine bottles around the house.

What to Say
You should only take medicines that have your name on them or that your doctor has chosen just for you. If you take medicine that belongs to somebody else, it could be dangerous and make you very sick.
Spend time with your teen and take an interest in their life

Do things together as a family.

In addition to spending one-on-one time with your teen, doing things together as a family is important to foster a sense of connection. Although your teen will naturally gravitate to their friends as they grow older, it is important that you invite, but don’t force, your teen to participate in planned family activities by making it interesting so that they want to participate. For example, “Hey, I was thinking of doing pizza and movies tonight. Know any good, new releases?” or “I thought we’d play some board games tonight. You’re really good at Trivia Pursuit and I was hoping you’d be my partner.” Ways to encourage quality family time include eating meals together, playing board games or video games like Wii, going to movies, planning family outings like camping or visits to other family, working together on family projects/volunteering, etc. Don’t forget to continue family traditions and rituals that were established when your teen was younger.

Show interest — and discuss — your teen's daily ups and downs.

Teens that have good, open communication with their parents are less likely to use alcohol and drugs. Your teen needs you to be interested in their life and available to spend private time with them to discuss what your teen feels is important in his or her life right now. Your teen’s daily dilemmas and experiences, fears about emerging sexuality, appearing different from friends, and going on to high school are “real” problems that deserve your concern and attention. Don’t let your teen’s growing independence deceive you into thinking s/he no longer needs you. Encourage conversation with your teen after school by asking specific questions about his day. Instead of general questions like “How was school?” try asking about specifics like “You were worried about your math test this morning…How did it go?” or “How did your friend Josh do at his swim meet yesterday?” Your teen will be pleased that you are interested in and remembered details about their life.

You may not always know what to say but sometimes just listening is the most powerful tool. Teenagers sometimes feel that their parents “don’t understand” or “don’t listen” which can lead to a feeling of disconnection from parents. Good listening involves reflecting back or paraphrasing what your teen has said so they know that you fully heard. Responses like, “It sounds like you are pretty angry at your coach” or “From what you are saying, it sounds like you feel she isn’t being a very good friend to you. Is that right?”

Here are some tips for being a good listener.

As a parent, sometimes you may feel as though your teen does not listen to you. It is important that you communicate your needs and feelings to your teen in an effective way. A simple suggestion to improve communication between you and your teen is to use “I” messages rather than “You” messages (which often create an oppositional situation). For example, instead of saying, “You always leave your dirty dishes on the table. Can’t you pick up after yourself?” say, “When you leave your dishes on the table, I get frustrated because it makes extra work for me when I get home and I’m trying to make dinner.”

Whole community prevention efforts

Quick facts about North Dakota communities.

  • 59.3% of ND parents and adults do not think drinking among teenagers is acceptable in their community. (CRS 2015 Q3g.)
  • 90.6% believe preventing alcohol and other drug use among youth is important. (CRS 2015 Q9a.)
  • 51.3% are concerned about whether their community has sufficient alcohol and other drug prevention programs. (CRS 2015 Q9b.)

Don't just leave your child's anti-drug education up to her school.

Ask your teen what s/he's learned about drugs in school and then continue with that topic or introduce new topics. A few to consider: the long-term effects that alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs have on the human body; how and why chemical dependence occurs — including the unpredictable nature of dependency and how it varies from person to person; the impact of drug use on society — societal costs of impaired health and loss of productivity; maintaining a healthy lifestyle; positive approaches to stress reduction; or setting realistic short- and long-term goals.

Support local drug prevention efforts in the community.

Help your teen grow up drug-free by working with other parents to expand your influence locally. What can you do? Work with your school and community to establish after-school recreational activities or help establish alcohol and drug-free places to go like a local skateboard park, motor-cross course, basketball courts, swimming pools, outdoor skating rink, etc. to keep youth busy. Support local law enforcement efforts and teach your teen to respect them. Help to establish alcohol- and drug-free social events in the community. Work with your religious community to establish faith-based prevention efforts. Support officials that prioritize substance abuse prevention and are interested in funding programs that provide support for families in your community. When a community works together to create a safe and healthy environment for youth, the message that you want your teen to learn is reinforced and supported.

Discussions about alcohol and other drugs with your teen

Tell your teen about the negative effect alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs have on physical appearance.

Teens are extremely concerned with their physical appearance so will likely avoid anything that detracts from their attractiveness. Therefore, this is an ideal time to talk about how specific drugs can affect appearance in addition to information about major dangers and health problems and social consequences. During discussions, keep in mind that warnings of dire future health problems do not resonate as much as the more immediate consequences of using alcohol and drugs so be sure to mention the more immediate, observable effects caused by various substances. For example, nicotine causes bad breath, stained teeth, brown fingers, smelly hair and clothes, and ruins your skin. Alcohol causes bad breath, vomiting, and slurred speech, impaired judgment, and possibly poisoning. Methamphetamine changes one’s appearance drastically (e.g., ruins hair, skin sores and scabs) and permanently damages your brain and body (rots teeth). You can also use real-life stories from your own negative experience or local news. Tell them about a time you saw a friend or acquaintance get sick or do something they regretted as a result of using alcohol (e.g., “Uncle Joe lost his job as a truck driver because he got a DUI” or “He is lucky he didn’t hurt someone driving drunk…could have been very tragic”).

Self-esteem, self-image, and your teen

Let your teen in on all the things you find wonderful about them.

Your teen needs to hear a lot of positive comments about their life and who they are as an individual — and not just when s/he makes the basketball team. Let them know that you are proud of them and praise often. Positive reinforcement can go a long way in preventing alcohol and drug use among teens.

Take steps to enhance your teen’s self-image.

Youth at this age are very concerned with how others seem them. Furthermore, a teen’s self-esteem is closely tied to how attractive they feel. While males are pressured to look a certain way (e.g., strong, muscular build, etc.), girls are often judged more by their appearance. Youth who do not think they fit the “popular culture” norm of slenderness may be at risk and resort to substance use. Whether to mask their feelings of inferiority or taking prescriptions, herbal supplements to lose weight or in the case of boys, steroids, teens feel a great deal of pressure to conform. Discuss cultural stereotypes of beauty with your teen and remind them of previous discussions about media and advertisers targeting one’s vulnerabilities to sell their products.

In addition, help your teen live a healthy lifestyle by ensuring they receive an adequate amount of exercise, provide well-balanced meals, and keep your refrigerator and pantry stocked with appealing alternatives to junk food.

Accept everything about your teen.

One cannot control their sexual orientation any more than they can control their height. In N.D., 12% of 7-8th graders reported being harassed in 2011 because someone thought they were gay, lesbian, or bisexual.7 Therefore, it is not surprising that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth are at an increased risk for substance abuse, depression, and suicide. Discovering one’s sexual orientation can happen as early as 9 or 10 years of age and it is often accompanied by shock, fear, confusion, and shame. These feelings are the result of a teen’s awareness of the social stigma and oppressive attitudes some have toward this population especially in rural communities. For this reason, many will lie or keep it a secret. A supportive, tolerant attitude toward the LGBTQ community will help your teen feel more comfortable in accepting their sexual orientation. Regardless of your stance, your teen needs to know that they are loved and accepted no matter what and that s/he will not be rejected by you.