Substance Abuse Prevention: Countering Peer Pressure
October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month! So far I’ve addressed when and how to talk to kids about drugs and alcohol, school substance abuse prevention programs, and celebrity influences. However, there is one major influential factor we have yet to address: friends and peers.
While parental involvement is an important factor in preventing substance abuse among children and teens, the reality is that kids spend a fair amount of their time away from their parents. They’re in school, in aftercare programs, participating in sports, or even just hanging out at a friend’s house.
With this said, parents cannot monitor all the interactions their children have with their peers or other adults throughout the day- that’s a terrifying, but absolute fact. Any parent would want an ideal world where they can simply filter the information being presented to their child and protect them from exposure to illicit substances. Still, as I noted previously, denial isn’t the best means of preventing drug and alcohol use for your child.
So how does one counter the possible negative impacts of peer pressure to use drugs or drink? It’s relatively simple.
1. Get to Know Their Friends
Getting to know your child’s friends and possibly the parents of said friends is a great first step in substance abuse prevention. By getting to know the people your child will likely interact with most, you can identify the sources of negative influences and intercept them before they become an issue.
Understand this: while expressing disapproval of someone who is having a negative impact on your child is important, insisting they no longer interact with that person may lead to a strain in the parent-child relationship and result in lashing out, rebellion, and a breakdown in communication.
If you do see signs of a negative influence acting on your child, explain your concern without judgement and reinforce that your child is in no way obligated to do anything simply because their friends think it’s cool.
2. Stay Involved in the Conversation
Remain available to your child; make sure they know they can talk to you about anything and everything. Take advantage of opportunities to talk about peer pressure and substance abuse as often as they present themselves and create opportunities yourself.
Attending community events aimed at substance abuse prevention and education as a family helps to cement the message while still being fun. You can also volunteer for nonprofit organizations in the addiction prevention and recovery industry. By remaining educated and a fount of information for your child, you establish yourself as a reliable authority to turn to for direction.
3. Recognize Changes in Your Child’s Behavior
This is perhaps the most important aspect of preventing substance abuse among children and teens. Some parents write off changes in their child’s behavior as pubescent hormonal outbursts and teenage angst. Ignoring signs of behavioral and emotional changes is extremely dangerous as a number of factors may cause such changes, including developing mental disorders, serious emotional problems, and substance abuse.
Many people suffering from substance abuse disorders admit that they began as a form of self medication for physical or emotional pain. Beyond experimenting with friends as the result of peer pressure, children and young teens who abuse drugs and alcohol can encourage their peers to partake as a form way to escape their troubles. Because these young people have not been taught to cope with stress and emotional issues in a healthy way, they turn to illicit drugs, naively believing themselves above the consequences. This is clearly not the case.
If your child suddenly becomes withdrawn, acts out in anger or violence, or is suddenly secretive, you need to act as soon as possible, but you also need to respond in an effective manner. Reacting instantly and in anger may push your child further down the dangerous path they may already be treading. Instead of punishment and reticule, have an honest and open conversation with your child about your concerns. The aid of a family counselor or individual therapists may also be helpful.
4. Remember- You are Their Guiding Force
Above all else, parents and immediate family members influence a child’s perception of the world and right and wrong more than any peer group, media exposure, or other factors. By remaining a steady beacon of positive influences you can counter the negative influences the rest of the world has to offer.
Understand that your child is still a human being with genuine and important thoughts and feelings. By ignoring them you are doing more damage than you realize to their self-esteem, sense of self-worth, and even their trust in you. Your child needs your compassion, support, and affection more than they will let on. As a parent or legal guardian you are the first person they turn to for validation, direction, and protection. Lead them well.
Were you ever peer pressured into taking drugs or drinking? Tell your peer pressure story below!
Keep Up With Trending Addiction News
About the Author
Alexandrea Holder is a South Florida native working toward double Master’s degrees in Psychology and English. She finds the psychological aspects of addiction and mental illness fascinating, as both are prevalent in her family’s history. When not researching and spreading addiction awareness, Alexandrea enjoys sparring, artistic pursuits, and admiring puppies online.