Being a parent means spending a great deal of your time worrying about your children and second-guessing the choices you’ve made in guiding them. It just comes with the territory.
You never stop worrying about your kid’s mental and physical well-being – whether they’re 3, 13, or 30 and every mistake they make along their journey becomes OUR mistake because what happens to our children, happens to us.
One of the most prevalent obstacles our children are likely to face along their journey is drug and alcohol use. Like it or not, substances are everywhere and readily available.
Couple drug prevalence with curious, indulgent minds and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. The probability that most of our youth is going to at least try certain substances is pretty high – no matter how many DARE pamphlets and episodes of Intervention you hurl at them.
Unfortunately, there really isn’t any effective, full-proof way to safeguard your kids from being exposed to substances. A loving home with open dialogue and a strongly-instilled belief system certainly helps, but there is no guarantee that it will dissuade your kids from experimenting.
For better or for worse, the majority of teenagers will partake in substance use at least once in their life, but most of these incidents don’t ultimately shape the outcome of their future. That’s the best case scenario.
But not everyone comes out of their “experimental days” unscathed and it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the factors that cause one child to step away from that lifestyle with no problem while another kid completely loses grip and spirals into addiction.
Of course, you could blame poor family structure. Mental instability. A genetic disposition to addiction. A reckless and more daring personality type. The addictive nature of the drug of choice.
Some huge life event that rocked the individual’s life in incomprehensible ways. Hell, there are kids that appear to have the perfect lives and still fall into the insidious grip of addiction. So, the question becomes: As parents, how do we stop it? And the answer is… we don’t. Not really.
The best and most beneficial thing you can do for your child starts way before drugs even enter the picture. Way before school and sports and socializing become part of their daily routine — way before they start making decisions without you.
The best gift you can give your child is to teach them how to deal with adverse and uncomfortable emotions – specifically feelings of agitation, boredom, and anxiousness. Teach them how to navigate and pacify these emotions through healthy avenues and the chances of them relying on substances later on in life decreases exponentially.
Here’s why: there may be numerous reasons a kid might try drinking or doing drugs but ultimately there is only one underlying reason kids continue to do drugs and that’s because they haven’t learned the skills to cope with unwanted emotions. In my opinion, that’s the REAL reason that drug use has become so rampant throughout America and other countries. The media will blame it on prescription drugs or easier accessibility or celebrities or whatever “thing” they can create buzz about. But the reality is that drugs have ALWAYS been around and they’ve always been readily available and just as addictive. So what has changed?
The real difference is that parents stopped letting their kids figure out ways to entertain themselves. “Boredom” and “antsiness” suddenly became emotions that were meant to be curbed, not explored. So parents started shoveling whatever shiny thing they could get their hands on to satiate their kid’s need for instant gratification. Whether it was television or toys or music lessons or playdates or bouncy castles or trips to Disneyland or ice cream or video games – it didn’t matter. The only goal was to keep their kid happy; keep them entertained; keep them feeling happy and occupied and distracted – anything but uncomfortable.
As parents, we think we’re doing our kid a favor. We think keeping them content is the best thing we can do for them, but that’s not always the case. Rewarding and cultivating a child’s need for instant gratification is setting that kid up for a life in which he doesn’t know how to handle adverse or unwanted emotions. He hasn’t been taught the coping skills to handle anxiety or restlessness or discontent. So, when that kid stumbles upon drugs and those drugs give him or her immediate relief from those unwanted feelings…. Guess what? The chances of him desiring and needing that drug for instant gratification is pretty damn likely.
If your little boy is bored, LET HIM BE BORED. If your little girl is complaining she has nothing to do, LET HER FIGURE IT OUT WITHOUT HANDING HER AN IPAD. If your child is sad, DON’T DISTRACT HIM FROM BEING SAD. Teach him how to recognize his emotions and work with them.
I can’t promise these parenting techniques will keep your kids from self-destructive behavior later on. However, I know it certainly will help diminish the odds. Sending your kids into high school having NO grasp of how to deal with their emotions is a lot like sending your kid to war without any idea of how to protect themselves while also telling them to just avoid anyone with a gun. It’s ineffective, it’s naive, and it puts your kid at risk.