What can parents do?
As a parent or guardian, you have a big impact on your teenager’s life and the decisions they make. There are many ways in which you can help reduce the chance that your teenager uses alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. The tips below are based on what we know works for parents of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander youth.
1. Be supportive
Provide a supportive environment at home by being aware of pressures and strains in your teenager’s life. It is important to be aware of things that are causing them stress or worry. The more stresses and worries your teenager has in their lives, the more likely they are to use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. The things that could be worrying or stressing your teenager may include:
Where possible, provide support and help your teenager work out ways to deal with these problems. Listen to your teenager, try to offer practical advice and solutions. Get involved and show interest in their everyday activities to help keep conversations with them going.
2. Be a good role model
The way you behave towards smoking, alcohol and other drugs has a big influence on your teenager’s behaviour, so it is important to set a good example. Make sure that what you tell your teenagers is not different from what you do. Limiting your own, and the family’s, smoking, alcohol and drug use can protect your teenager from starting to use themselves.
Show your teenager ways to have fun and deal with problems that don’t involve smoking, alcohol or drugs, such as cultural or recreational activities (see point 5).
3. Establish strong and positive family relationships
Having healthy family relationships reduces the chance that your teenager will use alcohol, tobacco or drugs. Regularly spend time with your child where they have all of your attention. It is also helpful to talk to them about their daily activities and what they’ve been doing, and make this a regular part of your conversation.
4. Encourage and support their education
Keep track of your teenager’s school attendance and continually encourage them to attend and do their best at school. Support them when they look for jobs and ensure they have access to health care. Show that you believe in their abilities to achieve their goals and express hope for their future. A good education and employment are empowering and will build your teenager’s self-esteem.
5. Encourage cultural and recreational activities
Cultural and recreational activities such as sport, art (e.g. painting, craft or didgeridoo making) and traditional hunting or fishing can foster a sense of pride and empowerment in young people.
These activities also reduce boredom for your teenager and keep them busy, which can protect them engaging in risky activities, such as alcohol and drug use. Doing activities with your teenager can also improve your relationship with them.
6. Reduce availability of alcohol and drugs
Do not provide your teenager with cigarettes, alcohol or drugs. By making sure these substances aren’t available at home, you can help protect your teenager from using them. Talk to older siblings and other family members about not providing your teenager with cigarettes, alcohol or other drugs.
7. Provide them with messages about not smoking and not using drugs
Your child may not be fully aware of the dangers of using alcohol and other drugs which means they are at greater risk of harm. As a parent, it is important to provide messages about not smoking or using drugs to your teenager. You can do this in the following ways:
Make sure they know the negative impacts and harms of smoking, alcohol and other drug use. If you are not sure about these harms yourself, you can find information here.
Clearly express what you expect from your teenager and what your rules are about smoking, alcohol and other drug. Discuss these rules with your teenager and ask for their input as well. Explain to your teenager why these rules are important.
Talk to your teenager about myths they might have heard about drug and alcohol use. For example, many teenagers think that it is normal to use drugs, but in fact, the large majority of young people have never tried an illegal drug. More common myths can be found on here.
Openly communicate your concerns if you suspect your teenager might be using. Here you can find tips on how to start a conversation with your teenager about drug use.
8. Know your teenager’s peers
Friends can have a large impact on your teenager’s behaviour. Teenagers can often feel pressured to do the same things as their friends. When they are around friends who smoke, drink or do drugs, they may not want to feel left out, or their friends may encourage them to join in.
Know who your teenager is hanging out with, get to know their friends and try to meet their parents or guardians as well. Talk to their parents and guardians about your rules around drug and alcohol use and try to set common rules.
If you believe your teenager’s friends are involved in drugs, be prepared to support your teenager to find a new set of friends by getting them involved in new activities.
This factsheet was developed by researchers at the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Sydney (2017). Input was received from external Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal experts on the Expert Advisory Group.
Positive Choices artwork by Jenna Lee (Gilimbaa).