It’s easier for parents to prevent than to deal with adolescent substance use. Build quality and strong relations with your children, take the time to talk and listen to them and guide them to make healthy decisions from early age.
This was the main message of a webinar, “Teens and substance use — what can parents do?”, organised by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drugs Addiction (EMCDDA) on May 8th. A representative of the APEEEL1’s working group on drugs attended the online event, during which leading researchers from EMCDDA and Italy presented evidence-based practices and advice to parents to help address the hot topic of “drugs”.
Experts warn that alcohol is the very first substance for parents to deal with and, while many parents do not consider it as a substance, alcohol is the gateway for the use of other drugs. Data show that 12-16 year olds who drink weekly are at a higher risk of developing dependence, addiction to other substances and school dropout. Apart from the influence of peers and group behaviour, other factors play a role, such as the too low legal drinking age in some countries, or the very early introduction of alcohol in some cultures.
Part of the complexity of the problem is that prevention among young people is difficult, as the existence of such a problem is only a notion in their mind, or the perception of related-activities is shared fun with their peers, and they are not aware of the possible long-term effects.
Here are some of experts’ prevention recommendations for parents:
Stay in touch and build quality relations with your child. Find the time to discuss, to share and to find out what is your kid doing, where and with whom. Be open, instead of judging. Be respectful.
• Discuss the problem with substances use and addiction BUT not too frequently, as you risk creating the opposite effect.
Explain why legal drinking age is important and why drinking before has health (long-term) consequences. Delay the onset of drinking as long as possible.
It’s important to set rules about non-drinking and non-using drugs. Find agreement with other parents about this. (As noted by one of the participants, younger kids may need more rules, while teens could be happier with agreements, as long as you maintain open communication.)
• Be careful what amount of pocket money you give to your kids. Data shows that unreasonably high amounts of pocket money lead to the use of stronger substances (such as cocaine).
If you use substances yourself (drinking, smoking), keep it out of sight and try not to do it in front of your kid.
• If your kid asks if you used substances when you were young, and you did, be honest and don’t lie. Tell them, however, why you did that (for example, lack of awareness) and why you don’t do it anymore (consequences).
• Finally, keep confidence in your role as a parent. There are no magic solutions, but you can try to maintain quality, respectful and strong relations and stay involved in your teen’s life. Experts insist that while parental influence changes with age, parents remain important (and as research shows, more important than school and peers) and can influence their children’s network and health decisions!

To find out more or to watch the webinar click on this link