Often, blame for the problem of teen drug use is directed toward the parents. This might seem unfair considering that even the most responsible and doting parents can be blindsided by the discovery of their children’s addiction; however, studies indicate that the quality of life at home does contribute significantly to teens’ drug abuse risk.
Well-meaning parents, in many cases, do not know that certain actions of theirs can bring harm to their children. They cling to their good intentions, all the while unaware that those good intentions do not necessarily translate to wise decisions and may even result in missteps that can increase their kids’ chances of developing a drug problem. The following are four examples of parenting mistakes that can influence teens’ vulnerability to drug addiction.
The adolescent years are typically marked by unpredictable and difficult behavior, but this should not be used by parents as an excuse to write off displays of aggression as nothing more than teenage angst. While acts of rebellion like dying one’s hair purple, getting inked, and ditching classes in favor of perfecting skateboarding tricks could prove to be harmless and don’t necessarily have to cause alarm, other behaviors might not be as innocuous. Teenagers could very well survive the adolescent phase relatively unscathed with only a misspelled tattoo, a few lousy grades, and bad hair to show for it, but not if danger signs are ignored.
If a formerly vivacious child turns sullen and starts getting into fights or lashing out at those around them, parents should react with concern instead of chalking up the personality transformation to hormones and trusting the phase to eventually end. When they hit puberty, teens usually find themselves battling feelings of confusion and alienation. They become convinced that the world is against them and no one understands how they feel. That might sound melodramatic, but it is the truth and having adults treat their fears as trivial and temporary simply proves them right. It is this conviction of being misunderstood that can push teenagers to search for comfort outside the home and make them more susceptible to delinquent behavior, which can include trying out alcohol and illegal substances.
Peer pressure is consistently cited by experts as among the biggest drug abuse risk factors teenagers have to cope with. Though not all teens are thrill-seekers, most are eager to experiment. That desire for new experiences, when compounded by the need to feel accepted and to belong to a group, can make them open to being swayed to do things they normally would avoid.
If parents don’t make an effort to get to know their children’s friends, they would be unable to help their kids resist the influence of peers whose value judgments result in reckless behavior and risky life choices. By being in the dark, parents cannot protect their kids from negative influences that show up guised as friends.
Out of fear that lack of rules might encourage kids to go wild, quit school, and get pregnant (or get someone pregnant) at the age of 16, some parents welcome their children’s teen years with a change in parenting style. What once was a warm and laughter-filled home becomes a military camp overnight where bedtime is at 8 and taking home grades lower than an A- means remaining grounded until graduation.
Although there is no denying the importance of having rules, particularly in homes housing impressionable teenagers prone to mood swings and erratic behavior, being overly strict can actually lead to more problems. By employing a severe authoritarian parenting style, parents can end up antagonizing their children and driving them away.
Also, while it’s normal to have expectations, setting goals that are extremely difficult to achieve can produce physical, emotional, and psychological burdens that teenagers may not be able to handle. Stress, anxiety, weight and self-esteem issues, and depression are just some of the usual responses exhibited by teenagers when faced with the possibility of not meeting other people’s expectations. Those responses, as well as anger over harsh rules and unrealistic demands, could make them act out and maybe even try to punish their parents by engaging in destructive behavior like doing drugs.
Parents trying to be friends with their kids might seem like a good idea, but it actually has just as much potential of being a contributing factor to drug addiction risk as parents acting too strict and expecting too much.
By trying to be buddies with their teenage kids, parents risk having their children regard them as equals rather than as authority figures whose advice and decisions they must abide by and respect. As their title suggests, the primary responsibility of parents is to parent their children—to take care of their needs and help them make their way through life. Teenagers require role models they can look up to and adults they can depend on for counsel and support. They’re capable of finding kids their own age to fulfill their friendship needs, but they’ll be hard-pressed to come across individuals who would be willing and able to supervise them as parents are supposed to do.
It’s also quite possible that in their attempts to bond with their kids, parents could inadvertently give the impression of being fine with delinquency, rash behavior, and even substance abuse. Talks about their own teenage years could include stories involving alcohol-fueled adventures and exposure to drugs. Such stories could not only undermine their authority, but also make it seem as though they are promoting a favorable attitude toward recklessness and a disregard for responsibility.
The teen years can be a very challenging and frustrating period for both parents and children. Most teenagers are plagued with self-doubt, anxiety, and a general sense of upheaval. These feelings of confusion and turmoil can put them at higher risk of developing an addiction to drugs and other substances. Parents may not be able to shield their children from every negative influence there is in the world, but they should make sure that they themselves couldn’t be counted as one of those negative influences. It is their obligation to ensure that their homes are safe havens for teenagers who are in need of understanding, guidance, and comfort.