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Laying the Groundwork

Teen Challenge NorWestCal Nevada student kisses her baby at a Teen Challenge event. 

Parents are the most important role models in a child's life 

What you say and do about drugs, alcohol, and abuse matters in the lives and futures of your children. 

Parents have the privilege and responsibility to: 

  • Set a positive example
  • Get involved in their children's lives
  • Create and enforce clear, consistent expectations
  • Create age-appropriate ways to talk about drugs, alcohol, and abuse to form children's awareness from an early age
  • Discuss the consequences of drugs, alcohol, and abuse
  • Show care about children's choices about drugs and alcohol

Children learn by example. They adopt the values you demonstrate. As children grow, they can be impressed by the positive choices you make. Bringing soup to a sick neighbor or being honest when we make a mistake can make a big impact. 



Consistency is critical

Although we agree caring for others is important, it's not always easy to be consistent. You can prevent confusion for your child by being consistent and modeling your values. Your children watch, and hear, what you say and do. Be consistent with the rules and guidelines you share with them. Maybe you've:

  • told a friend you're younger than you are 
  • let your friends break the "no smoking in the house" rule
  • laughed at drunks in a movie or on TV even though you believe drinking is a serious matter
  • asked your child to get you a beer from the refrigerator, even though alcohol is off-limits for kids

Making choices like those above can be confusing for children. When family values aren't clear, or aren't clearly enforced, it can lead to the child not understanding the importance of the issue. 

Model Your Family Values

Children who decide not to use alcohol or other drugs often make this decision because they have strong convictions against the use of these substances — convictions based on a value system.

Make your family's values clear by explaining how you make your choices and how your choices reflect your values. For instance: 

  • If you're walking down the street together and spot a blind person attempting to cross, you can both offer to help him and then take the opportunity to discuss why it's important to support those in need.
  • You can also explore moral issues by posing hypothetical questions at the dinner table or in the car — for example, "What would you do if the person ahead of you in the movie line dropped a dollar bill?" or "What would you do if your friend wanted you to skip class with him and play video games instead?"

Concrete examples like these make the abstract issue of values come alive.


Planning for Togetherness 

Sometimes it's frustrating how few chances there are to have conversations about drugs with our children. In our busy culture, with families juggling the multiple demands of work, school, after-school activities, and religious and social commitments, it can be a challenge for parents and children to be in the same place at the same time.

To ensure that you have regular get-togethers with your children, try to schedule:

Family meetings.

Plan a weekly meeting with your family. This provides a forum for sharing:

  • triumphs or wins
  • grievances or concerns
  • projects at school or home
  • questions about discipline or rules
  • or anything else on the mind of a family member. 

 Ground rules help keep the conversation going. Agreement on the rules can help make the meeting a positive experience. Some good ground rules include:

  •  everyone gets a chance to talk
  • one person talks at a time without interruption
  • everyone listens
  • only positive, constructive feedback is allowed.

To get resistant children to join in, combine the get-together with incentives such as post-meeting pizza or assign them an important role such as recording secretary or rule enforcer.

Regular parent-child rituals

These eliminate the need for constant planning and rearranging. Even a few minutes of conversation can help you catch up with your child and establish the open communication that is essential to raising drug-free children. 

Some suggestions include:

  • Take the long way home from school once a week 
  • Get ice cream together 
  • Make a weekly visit to the library together
  • Take a few minutes of conversation while cleaning up after dinner
  • Make time right before bedtime to catch up with your child 

    Make Your Position Clear

    When it comes to dangerous substances like alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, don't assume that your children know where you stand. They want you to talk to them about drugs. State your position clearly; if you're ambiguous, children may be tempted to use. Tell your children that you forbid them to use alcohol, tobacco, and drugs because you love them. (Don't be afraid to pull out all the emotional stops. You can say, "If you took drugs it would break my heart.") Make it clear that this rule holds true even at other people's houses. Will your child listen? Most likely. According to research, when a child decides whether or not to use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, a crucial consideration is "What will my parents think?"

    Also discuss the consequences of breaking the rules — what the punishment will be and how it will be carried out. Consequences must go hand-in-hand with limits so that your child understands that there's a predictable outcome to his choosing a particular course of action. The consequences you select should be reasonable and related to the violation. For example, if you catch your son smoking, you might "ground" him, restricting his social activities for two weeks. You could then use this time to show him how concerned you are about the serious health consequences of his smoking, and about the possibility that he'll become addicted, by having him study articles, books, or video tapes on the subject.

    Whatever punishment you settle on shouldn't involve new penalties that you didn't discuss before the rule was broken — this wouldn't be fair. Nor should you issue empty threats ("Your father will kill you when he gets home!"). It's understandable that you'd be angry when house rules are broken, and sharing your feelings of anger, disappointment, or sadness can have a powerfully motivating effect on your child. Since we're all more inclined to say things we don't mean when we're upset, it's best to cool off enough to discuss consequences in a matter-of-fact way.

    Contrary to some parents' fears, your strict rules won't alienate your children. They want you to show you care enough to lay down the law and to go to the trouble of enforcing it. Rules about what's acceptable, from curfews to insisting that they call in to tell you where they are, make children feel loved and secure. Rules about drugs also give them reasons to fall back on when they feel tempted to make bad decisions. A recent poll showed that drugs are the number-one concern of young people today. Even when they appear nonchalant, our children need and want parental guidance. It does not have to be preachy. You will know best when it is more effective to use an authoritarian tone or a gentler approach.

    Always let your children know how happy you are that they respect the rules of the household by praising them. Emphasize the things your children do right instead of focusing on what's wrong. When parents are quicker to praise than to criticize, children learn to feel good about themselves, and they develop the self-confidence to trust their own judgment.


    What Your Habits Tell Your Children

    Drinking alcohol is one of the accepted practices of adulthood. It is legal for adults to have wine with dinner, beer at the end of a long week, or cocktails at a dinner party. But drinking to the point of losing control sends the wrong message to children, as does reaching for a drink to remedy unhappiness or tension.

    Although it is legal for adults to smoke cigarettes, the negative impact tobacco has on a smoker's health is well documented. If a child asks his parents why they smoke, they may explain that when they began, people didn't understand how unhealthy smoking is and that once a smoker starts, it's very hard to stop. Young people can avoid making the same mistake their parents did by never starting and risking addiction.

    When parents smoke marijuana or use other illegal drugs, they compromise not only their children's sense of security and safety, but the children's developing moral codes as well. If you use illegal drugs, it is self-deluding to imagine that your children won't eventually find out. When they do, your parental credibility and authority will go out the window. If their parents — their closest and most important role models — don't respect the law, then why should they? Parents who abuse alcohol or other drugs should seek professional help. This help is available at treatment centers and from support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Their children also may benefit from professional counseling and support from groups such as Families Anonymous, Al- Anon, and Nar-Anon.

    Child jumping from play structure at Teen Challenge NorWestCal Nevada property. Children can enjoy healthy relationships with their parents and have positive conversations about drugs and alcohol, even at young ages. 

    Answering Tough Questions

    Among the most common drug-related questions asked of parents is "Did you ever use drugs?" Unless the answer is "no," it's difficult to know what to say because nearly all parents who used drugs don't want their children to do the same thing. Is this hypocritical? No. We all want the best for our children, and we understand the hazards of drug use better than we did when we were their age and thought we were invincible. To guide our children's decisions about drugs, we can now draw on credible real-life examples of friends who had trouble as a result of their drug use: the neighbor who caused a fatal car crash while high; the family member who got addicted; the teen who used marijuana for years, lost interest in school, and never really learned how to deal with adult life and its stresses.

    Some parents who used drugs in the past choose to lie about it, but they risk losing their credibility if their children discover the truth. Many experts recommend that when a child asks this question, the response should be honest.

    This doesn't mean that parents need to recount every moment of their experiences. As in conversations about sex, some details should remain private, and you should avoid providing more information than is actually sought by your child. Ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand exactly why and what a child is asking before answering questions about your past drug use, and limit your response to that information.

    This discussion provides a good opportunity for parents to speak frankly about what attracted them to drugs, why drugs are dangerous, and why they want their children to avoid making the same mistake. There's no perfect way to get this message across, only approaches that seem more fitting than others. Some suggestions:

    • "I took drugs because some of my friends used them, and I thought I needed to in order to fit in. In those days, people didn't know as much as they do now about all the bad things that can happen when you smoke marijuana or do other drugs. If I'd known then what I know now, I never would have tried them, and I'll do everything I can to keep you away from drugs."
    • "Everyone makes mistakes, and when I used drugs, I made a big one. I'm telling you about this, even though it's embarrassing, because I love you, and I want to save you from making the same stupid decision that I made when I was your age. You can learn from my mistakes without repeating them."
    • "I did drugs because I was bored and wanted to take some risks, but I soon found that I couldn't control the risks — they were controlling me. There are much better ways of challenging yourself than doing drugs."
    • "At your age, between homework, friends, sports, and other interests, there are a lot of fun things going on. If you get into taking drugs, you're pretty much giving up those other things, because you stop being able to concentrate, and you can't control your moods or keep to a schedule. You'll miss out on all these great experiences, and you'll never get those times back."
    • "You don't know how your body will react to drugs. Some people can get addicted really quickly and can get really sick even using a drug for the first time."
    • "I started drinking/doing drugs when I was young, and I've been battling them ever since. They made me miss a big part of growing up, and every day I have to fight with myself so they don't make me miss more — my job, my relationships, and my time with you. I love you too much to watch you set yourself on the same path."

    For Grandparents

    Grandparents play a special part in a child's life and, unlike parents, grandparents have had years to prepare for their role. They've been through the ups and downs of child-rearing and bring a calmer, more seasoned approach to their interactions with their grandchildren. They, as well as other extended family members, can serve as stable, mature role models, especially if they need to step in to assume some of the responsibilities of the child's parents.

    These important elders have one advantage over parents: Their relationships with their grandchildren are less complicated, less judgmental, and less tied to day-to-day stresses. Grandparents can use their positions of trust and intimacy to reinforce the same lessons in self-respect and healthy living that children are learning from their parents. When grandparents show concern with questions like "Has anyone ever tried to sell you drugs?" or "Why are your eyes so red?" they may be more likely to hear honest answers — especially if they indicate that they are willing to listen in confidence, and will not be quick to judge or punish. Their grandchildren may be less defensive and more likely to listen closely to their advice about avoiding drugs. Grandparents can also help reinforce positive messages and praise their grandchildren when they do well.

    Helping A Struggling Child

    Many godly parents have prayed and fasted for their child or a loved one, yet they watch painfully as the person continues down a path of rebellion and destruction. One mother said,"I pray for my children, but why is God so slow to answer?" So what can parents or grandparents do to help their loved ones? For many, the key is to stop enabling the behavior of their loved one by continually rescuing them from the consequences of their actions. Once the loved one begins to feel the pain they are creating through drug abuse or other destructive behavior, the path to health and wholeness can emerge as an alternative to the path of destruction.


    Are You An Enabler? 

    Have you found yourself doing the following? If so, you might be enabling your loved one. 

    •  Works for self-improvement:
      " If I were a better parent/grandparent/friend, my loved one wouldn't be doing this."
    •  Changes the environment to accommodate the person with the problem:
      " Let’s change schools and get our child away from those troublemakers."
    •  Takes on the whole world in defense of a loved one:
      " The whole legal system is corrupt, and my child/grandchild/friend is getting unjust treatment."
    • Their pain increases. Because the loved one is still acting irresponsibly, the enabler’s pain and frustration deepens.
    • Communication deteriorates. Because the issues are unresolved, defenses are high. Both the enabler and the loved one are often deluded about reality.
    • Enabling is habit-forming. The enabler keeps offering the same kind of help. Sometimes the enabler derives such deep satisfaction from "rescuing" someone that he or she never assesses whether the assistance is helping or hurting the loved one.
    Child walking in freedom along the beach in Northern California. Part of a trip with Teen Challenge NorWestCal Nevada. 

    Enabling Is The Wrong Kind of Help

    Enabling is rescuing your loved ones so that they do not experience the painful consequences of their irresponsible decisions. Enabling is anything that stands in the way of persons experiencing the natural consequences of their own behavior. Tracy, the young mother of two boys, has mastered the art of manipulating her family into enabling her behavior. Often arrested on drug charges, she would say to her parents, "Do you want to see the mother of your grandchildren locked up in jail?" The last time it happened , the parents were planning to mortgage their home so they could afford the bail payment.

    Galatians 6:7-8 speaks to Christians about this with a simple but blunt truth. "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from that Spirit will reap eternal life."(NIV) Bad actions have painful consequences, even when our children or loved ones are involved. Thankfully, God can use those consequences for His purposes if we don't get in His way.

    When you stop enabling, get ready for more trouble. When you stop offering the wrong kind of help, your loved ones may get very angry with you - and for a "good" reason. You’ve stopped rescuing them. Now they are beginning to feel the painful consequences of their irresponsible decisions. Just before mortgaging their home, Tracy’s parents were persuaded to stop enabling her. They let her stay in jail for almost a year, feeling the full impact of her irresponsible behavior. Angry and frustrated, Tracy accused them of not loving her. But while she was in jail, the drugs cleared out of Tracy’s system and she began to think clearly again. She joined a Bible study, became a Christian and entered Teen Challenge when she was released.

    When you make a decision to stop enabling, like Tracy’s parents did, you must stand on the facts, especially if you have a tender heart. You must continue to rehearse the fact of how your loved one’s actions are destroying his or her life and how enabling this to continue is the worst thing you could do.

    God is a loving Father, don’t be afraid to trust Him. When you stop enabling your loved one, he or she may go further down the path of destruction. You may inwardly think, "I can’t bear to see my daughter in such pain and danger." Or, "My son might get killed! And then I would have his death on my hands. I can’t let that happen!"

    But whatever happens, do not be afraid to trust God. Place your hope in the story of the Prodigal Son recorded in Luke 15. This father did not enable his son. He allowed him to leave home, knowing the son would soon waste his inheritance. Before long, the rebellious young man had lost everything, and he ended up in a pig pen eating the food the pigs didn’t want.

    But all alone in the pig pen, the Bible says, "He came to his senses." The young man realized that even the hired men at his fathers household ate better than he did. And the son resolved to go and seek his father’s forgiveness. When he finally meets his father again, the son’s true repentance is seen in his words: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you." (Verse 21) He takes personal responsibility for his actions. It’s time for joyful peace and a celebration.

    Learning to be at peace with God. Just like the Prodigal Son’s father, you can rest in the peace that God has the address of your loved ones, no matter how deep they are in sin. His love far surpasses your love. He knows what will work best to bring your loved ones to that point of change. You’ve got to trust God even when things are going from bad to worse. Stop offering the wrong kind of help. Stop feeding the problem. Stop being deceived. Trust Him. Jesus is ready to help us offer the right kind of help. He promises to give us wisdom to make the difficult decisions. He also stands ready and waiting with open arms to help our loved ones who really need His help. Look to Him today for guidance on how best to help those you love.