Four Positive Ways Parents Can Delay Their Child’s First Use of Drugs or Alcohol

Mother and teenage daughter outdoor portrait

As a parent, one of the biggest challenges you will face during your child’s preteen and teenage years is combatting the pressure and the temptation that they feel to try drugs and alcohol. Regardless of your own personal attitude on drugs and alcohol, study after study shows that the longer a child waits to them, the less likely they are to develop risky drinking habits later in life. The longer you can delay their first use of drugs or alcohol, the better. Despite changing attitudes around alcohol and many other drugs, delaying their first use remains the best thing you can do for them as a parent from a substance use perspective.

When your child is faced with the decision to try or not to try drugs and alcohol, you want them to be making an informed decision based on reliable information that will help guide their choices. Here are some tips to help you do just that:

Help Them Build Skills and Strategies for Avoiding Underage Drinking (and other Drug Use)
Chances are your child knows underage drinking and drug use is wrong – and they probably don’t want to try them. But, even if they don’t, peer pressure is a powerful thing. To prepare your child to resist it, help them prepare an answer for anyone who may pressure them to drink or try drugs, and practice ways to say “no thanks.” Remind them that they might be setting an example and empowering someone else who wants to say “no.” For more tips visit –

Peer Pressure Might Be Strong – But A Parent’s Influence Is Stronger
In a surprising recent study, more than 80% of young people age 10-18 said that their parents are the leading influence on their decision to drink or not drink. Teens watch their parents whether they admit it or not, and your example helps guide their choices. If you drink when your teen is present, do so in moderation. Stay away from alcohol in risky situations to model positive decision-making – for example, never drive after drinking. Do not give alcohol to your children and make sure that they know your home is off limits to them and their friends for parties. You might think it is safer to have them drink in your home –but it’s actually one of the most dangerous things you can do! Be honest with your teen about expectations, your experiences and the consequences if they decide to drink or try drugs.

Be Clear About Your Expectations – Set Limits and Follow Through
Teens’ lives are constantly changing around them, and high school can be one of the most confusing times for even the most confident child. They look to you for stability and advice – whether you know it or not! Teens whose parents set clear rules and follow through with consequences are less likely to use alcohol or other drugs. Establish rules in advance, reward good behavior and follow through with consequences when rules are broken.

Encourage Your Child to Try Hard In School and Get Involved in The Community
Studies show that young people who perform well in school, participate in community service and take part in extracurricular activities that they enjoy are less likely to become involved with drugs and alcohol. By taking a positive interest in your child’s career at school and encouraging them to explore the subjects that they enjoy – in the classroom and outside of it – you’re showing them that you’re taking a positive interest in their lives. Contrary to the popular lament that “there is nothing to do on Cape Cod,” our school systems and community organizations do a great job of making sure our youth stay busy and have fun! Schools, recreation departments and local non-profits all offer affordable options for a wide range of activities. Recreation departments and school websites offer a numerous resources. Also, keep an eye on social media for sign up alerts and new programs.

Parenting is a tough job and the teenage years are some of the hardest, with temptation and “learning experiences” at every turn. Don’t get discouraged! By setting a positive example and helping them prepare for the many situations they’ll face, you’re protecting them now and giving them skills that will help for a lifetime.

For more information, visit

Barnstable County’s Department of Human Services plans, develops, and coordinates regional solutions to Cape Cod’s most pressing health and human service issues. To learn more about the Department of Human Services and the Regional Substance Abuse Council, visit

If you think that you may need help with an alcohol or drug problem, call the Massachusetts Substance Abuse Helpline at 800-327-5050 or visit

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