Just as inexperienced drivers improve their decision making processes with time, it may be possible to help teens learn to make better decisions for themselves. These improvements are heavily influenced by experiencing risk and reacting in adaptive ways.
Adults can help teens to practice “safe skills” just as they would practice safe driving. Telling your teen not to drink alcohol or do drugs is of course necessary. Practice how they will say no to drinking or drugging. Tell them that their brain is not fully developed and that drugs and alcohol could have serious deleterious effects on their brain should also be shared.
Tell them to use you, their parent, as an excuse for not drinking or drugging. “If my parents found out that I was drinking, I would be in a lot of deep trouble.”
While we hope that teens will not drink or use drugs, we know that some will. Telling your teen that it is okay to call you if they are drinking may be another way to protect them from their own bad decision. If you don’t, your teen may ride with the teen at the party who has drunk the least or who is judged to be the least intoxicated. This decision can be a tragic one for all concerned. Some teen’s will make poor decisions, however, adults can have a harm reduction effect by setting a positive healthy example and at the same time setting an explicit expectation in place that expects that teens will regulate their own risk taking behaviors.
Dr. Carrera wrote in his book, “Lessons for Lifeguards,” that helping teens to create a positive vision for their future maybe one of the most powerful inoculations against risk taking among youth.
A young person who has dreams, is nurtured at home, is welcomed at school and enjoys meaningful friendships may enjoy more risk protection than teens that don’t.
Remember, all kids count.
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