It’s time for your child to enter middle school, and you’ve been preparing for this milestone for years. Preschool, kindergarten and elementary school are in the past, and it’s time for a new adventure. You’re aware that kids go through so many changes during this period – not only do they begin to deal with hormonal changes, but they will also have to contend with peer pressure – including the pressure to experiment with drugs and alcohol.
To keep your child drug-free while they’re in middle school, you’ll need to be there for them in their time of vulnerability – especially to drugs and alcohol.
As part two in our five-part series on “Tips for Raising Drug-Free Kids,” below we’ve provided some practical tips for you to apply during your child’s middle school years. We’ll start by offering some drug abuse statistics for youth.
Childhood Drug Abuse Statistics
Statistics reveal that drug use can start at a very young age, which makes many parents wonder how to prevent drug abuse among their children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 10.1 percent of kids in 2015 who were 12 years old or older used illicit drugs. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration says that kids whose parents taught them about the risks of alcohol and drugs are up to 50 percent less likely to use than kids whose parents didn’t teach them.
You as a parent have a significant impact on whether your child will decide to use drugs or not, but we know that it’s not easy to have conversations with your child about drugs. Below are some tips to help you address the topic of alcohol and drugs with your child, and encourage them to stay away from them.
Tips for Raising Drug-Free Kids – Middle School Years
Here are some tips to help you raise drug-free kids:
Set Clear Rules
Make sure you set clear rules regarding drug use and be sure your children know that there will be consequences if the rules are broken. Children at this age may not always understand why specific rules are set, but they’ll thank you in the long run.
Research shows that when parents set clear rules and have consequences for breaking them, their kids are less likely to try drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. Make sure your child knows that you’re only setting these rules because you love and want what’s best for them.
Research also reveals that when a parent sets rules that are too harsh or no rules at all, kids are more inclined to try drugs.
- Discuss the rules you set and your expectations in advance.
- Explain the consequences for breaking your rules.
- Enforce the consequences if they break a rule.
- Praise them when they meet expectations and follow the rules.
In doing so, you’ll teach your child responsibility for their actions and their well-being.
Enforce Your Child’s Self-Worth
Puberty can wear away at your child’s self-confidence to the point where it causes them to feel doubtful, insecure and vulnerable to peer pressure.
Remember, you’re the guide to raising drug-free children. Provide your child with an abundance of positive reinforcement during these years and praise them for both their successes and their efforts.
Biochemical susceptibility for addiction and low self-esteem are not a great combination. Children who are abusing drugs can have self-esteem issues, and they’ll need you to be present in their lives more than ever. That’s why it’s important to reward good behaviors and build up your child’s self-worth.
Ask Your Child About Their Opinion of Drugs
Having open conversations is a powerful tool you have at your disposal, and you can use it to connect with and protect your child. But when it comes to talking about life’s tougher topics, like drugs, it can be challenging to know what to say.
Below are some ways to approach these tough conversations, no matter how old your child is.
- Keep your discussions honest and open.
- Always come from a place of love no matter how tough your talk is.
- Balance positive and negative reinforcement.
- Remember that teachable moments can arise anywhere, anytime so take advantage of natural places to interject the topic of drugs and start that conversation.
The older your children get, the more opportunity you have to ask them their opinion on drugs and what they think about them. Ask your questions in an open-ended and nonjudgmental way which should get you a more honest answer. You can use news topics, like professional sports players using steroids or other current events, to come up with a casual conversation about the risk of drug use.
Be sure to show your children that you’re paying attention and listening to their questions and concerns. Children at this “middle school” age are typically still open to talking with their parents about subjects like this. Starting that conversation now will keep the doors open as your children get older when they are likely less inclined to share their feelings and thoughts.
Even if you don’t get a conversation started immediately with your questions, you’ll at least get your children thinking about the topic. Just let them know you’re willing to open up that conversation and hear what they have to say about it. This opens the doors for them to approach you later on if they need your help.
Help Your Child Practice What to Do if Asked to Use Drugs
Often, it’s when their peers are using drugs or alcohol that children will feel pressured to use as well. Discuss with your child ways to make responsible choices, regardless of what their friends are doing or saying. When your child doesn’t know what to say when offered drugs by their peers, they’re more likely to give in. Let your child know that they can always use an excuse like “no, my parents would ground me if they found out.”
Role-play with your child to help them resist the pressure to use drugs when they find themselves in a situation like this. Give your child some ideas on how to respond to a peer that says things like “it’s way more exciting than studying, come and drink with us, or are you a scaredy cat?”
Here are some tips to teach your child how to deal with peer pressure.
Encourage your child to:
- Be friends with people who don’t use alcohol or drugs. Then, if their friends pressure them to drink alcohol or use drugs, they can simply walk away or take a stand, knowing they have support there for them.
- Avoid parties where they know that drugs will be present. Role-play or practice things to say to their peers who may try to pressure drugs on them (this gives your child an idea of how to say “no” in advance).
Practice responses with them like:
- “No, thanks. I have a lot to do today.”
- “I’m not into that kind of stuff.”
- “My mom told me she would ground me for several weeks if I use.”
Let your child know they can use you as their out. Tell them they can always blame you if they’re faced with peer pressure and don’t know how to say “no” to their peers. You can even sign them up for a local peer-led prevention program to reinforce what you’re trying to teach them.
Emphasize Child Drug Abuse Facts Instead of Simply Instilling Fear
Base your drug-related messages on facts only, not fear. Children absorb facts of all kinds during this age. Use their passion for learning to your advantage to reinforce your message on drugs.
Some reasons why instilling fear doesn’t work are:
- Children often dismiss fear-instilling messages as a defense to their feeling of fear (i.e. it couldn’t ever happen to them).
- Children who are impulsive, sensation-seekers or risk-takers tend to be more attracted to this behavior.
And these too:
- You may send unintended messages with strong warnings.
- You may bring up past traumas by showing graphic images.
Even though many parents know instilling fear doesn’t work, it can be hard for them to avoid the natural instinct that comes up to do so. In this case, you should recognize the issue, pause for a moment, take research into consideration and look for other solutions.
For instance, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recognizes that children want to be treated equally. Therefore, NIDA scientists don’t use fear-instilling tactics to influence behavior or preach about the evils of using drugs. Instead, they deliver science-based facts about the effect of drugs on the body and brain and drug-free facts regarding life without drugs, so that kids have this information at their disposal to make healthy decisions.
Get to Know Your Kid’s Friends and Their Parents
No child, parent or family is immune to the harmful effects drugs cause. Any child can wind up in a predicament, even kids who try to avoid drugs and even those whose parents have given them proper guidance.
However, some kids are more inclined to use drugs than others. Children are more likely to try drugs if they have friends who already use drugs, or children who feel socially isolated may use drugs. Therefore, it’s essential that you take the time to get to know the friends of your child and even their parents. Involve yourself in your kid’s lives. If your child is hanging out with a friend, check in with them from time to time by phone or pay a visit to ensure their parents share the same values as you do regarding drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
Continue Promoting Extracurricular Involvement
Inspire your child to seek creative and healthy activities. Find ways to get your kids involved in hobbies, school clubs, sports and other activities that reduce excess free time and boredom. Encourage positive interests and friendships and find activities that you can do together with your children.
Extracurricular activities help in other ways as well. For instance, if your child is involved in activities, like karate, camping, or rock climbing, they fill your child’s natural desire to engage in “risky” behaviors and may even reduce their interest in using drugs. Your child will get a sense of team building when they participate in sports activities, and this shows your child that every person matters.
By involving your child in physical activities, you encourage your child to stay drug-free and healthy. After all, children who engage in school sports often have to take random drug tests. If your child doesn’t prefer athletic activities, you can involve them in other activities like performing volunteer work, taking art classes, helping tutor younger kids, or attending Girls Scouts or Boy Scouts.
There’s another benefit to these types of positive activities, too. They could help your child discover a talent for something they never realized they had or gently nudge them to pursue a career they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Praise Positive Behavior in Your Child
Self-esteem is how your child thinks about themselves – either negatively or positively. It’s the collection of feelings and beliefs that they have about themselves, and it influences their behavior, attitude and success in life. Just by being a parent, you are a huge influence on your child’s self-esteem.
No matter what age your child is, you can strongly influence the way they think about themselves, just by the way that you treat them and speak to them. There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re talking with your child to encourage them to build high self-esteem. These include:
- Using words of praise and encouragement. Saying things like, “I’m proud of you, I like how you do that, I love you.”
- Emphasizing your child’s strengths. When they have a sense of pride and accomplishment, they build the confidence to face challenges and persevere through them.
- Treating your child’s mistakes as an experience to learn. When you overreact to mistakes your child makes, your child will likely avoid taking risks and may blame others for their problems.
- Loving and accepting your kids for who they are. Unconditionally loving will enable your kids to learn how to solve their problems and feel secure reaching out to others for help when needed; particularly you.
Finally, make sure you praise your kids often for doing what’s right and respecting your rules. A hug takes only a minute to show your child you love them and tell them you appreciate their efforts in being a good kid. Positive reinforcement like this also lessens your child’s likelihood of turning to drugs to feel good — and it boosts their self-esteem.
Don’t just stop at praising them once. Praise and encourage your kids continuously for the positive choices they make and the things they do well. When they know you’re proud of them, they’ll be more motivated to stay drug-free and even be a good role-model for their younger siblings.
Monitor Your Child’s Online Activity
Kids are subjected to all types of information online. It’s important you involve yourself in their lives at home as well by:
- Knowing which websites your child is visiting and who they’re talking to online.
- Monitoring all computers and cell phones in your home (they can access the Internet on smartphones).
- Establishing a structure for your kids to reduce their free time. Set rules about computer use or assign household chores that are age-appropriate for when you’re not home.
This keeps them busy and will shave off the hours they spend online.
Help Your Child Overcome Peer Pressure
Peer pressure is huge during the middle school years, so it’s important that you help your child learn how to overcome it. As your child approaches adolescence, their need to fit in with their peers increases. This can make it more difficult for them to say “no” to drugs. Talk with your child about taking the time to analyze a situation and know when and how to remove themselves from an environment that could be dangerous.
Prepare your child for real-life situations by acting out different scenarios with them to allow them to practice how they’ll respond. For instance, you can try this script below and then come up with a few of your own.
Scenario: Your child goes to visit a friend at their house, who has a few other friends coming over as well. One of them takes a joint out. For this scenario, you can play the role of the friend who is offering the joint to the group. Use this plot to help your child develop friendly, but firm responses. Make it clear to your child that true friends will respect your child’s decision to not partake in smoking the joint.
Some possible responses you can offer your child during this situation include:
- ” Thanks, but I don’t really like doing that.”
- ” No, thanks. I’m on the soccer (or other sport) team and wouldn’t want to risk it.”
- ” Nah, they test me at work.”
- ” Nah, I see how it makes others act, and I don’t want to feel that way.”
- ” No, thanks. I’m training for __________.”
If your child’s friends continue to pressure your child into using, have your child keep repeating the reason why they don’t want to do drugs and try to change the subject. Let them know that simply leaving is always a valid option as well.
Substances your Child May Be Exposed to
In the seventh to ninth grader’s world, substances kids may be exposed to include:
- Adderall or Ritalin
- Herbal Ecstasy
A Special Word About Inhalants
Kids commonly abuse inhalants during these years. Kids may seek products in their own home to get high; even products you wouldn’t think of as “drugs.” There are hundreds of products that younger kids inhale to get high such as:
- Nail polish remover
- Hair spray
- Cleaning fluid
- Spray paint
- Aerosol whipped cream
Since these inhalants are so easy to get to, they’re often the first drugs children reach for.
The reason so many middle school kids experiment with inhalants is because they’re cheap and extremely available. Most importantly, however, children don’t realize the dangers of using inhalants to get high. These inhalants keep the body from getting the oxygen it needs and can cause unconsciousness leading to severe damage to the nervous system and brain. They can even cause death.
In a 2010 survey aimed towards eighth-graders, researchers asked kids how much they thought inhalants were harming them by using them only once or twice. Out of all the eighth-graders, only 36 percent said they thought it was a great risk. This tells you again that children at this age are more prone to using inhalants.
Remember: If your child has the impression that drugs are dangerous, they might be less inclined to use it. If they don’t, they’ll probably be more inclined to use it. But, no matter what, it’s up to you, the parent, to set the example and be a good role model to ensure your child knows that drugs can have both serious health and social effects. You need to instill in them that drugs can lead to abuse which then leads to addiction.
You’re the biggest influence in your child’s life. What you say about drugs and how you treat drugs influences the choices your child will make regarding drugs. Therefore, you should:
- Be involved in your child’s life and set a positive example.
- Get to know your child’s friends and know where your child is going and what they’re doing.
- Talk about drugs early and often in their life.
- Discuss the consequences of using drugs.
- Create consistent, clear expectations for your kids and enforce them.
- Show you care about your child’s choices regarding drugs.
Kids learn by example. The values you demonstrate to them through your actions are the values they adopt. And this means staying drug-free for kids. Next in our five-part series of “Tips for raising drug-free kids” covers the High School years.
Contact us here at 12 Keys Rehab via our toll-free phone number 866-957-3243 or online form if you’re in need of a personal, confidential consultation about drug or alcohol addiction as it relates to your middle-school aged child.