How to Prevent Substance Abuse with Your Teens

Parents so often express frustration over their ability to prevent substance abuse with their teens. Traditional advice calls for the setting of expectations, the enforcement of rules, the reduction of opportunity, and the conveyance of the risks involved. As so many of us know, each of these traditional deterrents has a habit of failing us.

My interviews with dozens of “sober” teens, has highlighted an amazing unanimity in their “desire” to be drug free. While many teens express a fear of sanctions, a lack of opportunity, an acknowledgement of risk, or a sense of immaturity, the most “bullet proof” kids say something much different; “I want to be sober.”

“Far too many of us don’t start preparing for these years, until it’s already too late. The battle against substance abuse begins long before the teenage years.” – Author’s Note

The trouble is, the fears expressed by many kids are contextual. A closer look, and little insight into teenagers, will tell you that each of these safeguards are dependant upon time and place. Conversely, a “desire” is an expression of one’s self. Unlike fear, a person’s desire embodies motivation, self-perception and speaks to an independent commitment. Whereas sanctions or opportunities exist externally, “desire” is unique in that it is an intrinsic, and therefore more omnipresent motivator.

So, just as the “desire” to fit in, to act older, or to experiment, seems to undermine our main arsenal of parent imposed deterrents, the desire to be drug free seems to override the main battery of teen temptations. It’s a hardwired safeguard.

While we can’t afford to abandon the traditional advice, the bulk of our efforts as parents and educators, needs to focus on crafting a desire for sobriety within our children. Given the money, strategy and social pressure devoted to the other side, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Our work is invested in the example that we set for our kids, and the values that we instill within them. This is a process that begins long before the teenage years. A substantial portion of our world is banking on the next generation of recreational substance abusers. Your child’s future is banking on your ability to counteract those interests. Take an affirmative role, not just in prohibiting substance abuse for your teen, but in helping your child “desire” sobriety.

For more on this topic, and more writings by Tim Shoemaker, please visit the Teen Substance Abuse page at MpoweredParent.com. It’s where families come together!

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