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Strategies for Parents to Prevent Underage Drinking/Substance Use

As a parent or guardian, you can help to prevent or delay your teen’s use of alcohol and other substances.

Youth are at greater risk from the harmful effects of alcohol and other substances because their brains are still developing. These harms can include brain impairment (i.e., depression, anxiety, memory loss), negative effects on decision making, impulse control and personality, violent and aggressive behaviour.

Research shows that there are various parenting strategies that can help prevent or delay substance use among youth. This page offers some effective parenting strategies and provides tips and activities to help prevent or delay alcohol and other substance use among youth.

  • Be in the know: Know who your child is spending time with, what they are doing, and where they are.
  • Parent-child communication: Talk early and often with your child.
  • Set clear expectations: Establish reasonable boundaries and be consistent with discipline.
  • Be a positive role model: Model positive behaviour.
  • Be engaged: Foster a positive parent-teen relationship by being present and actively listening.

Tips for Being in the Know

  • Consider setting  a time when your teen is expected to be home.
  • Ask whether an adult will be present when your teen is going to a friend’s home.
  • Have your teen check-in throughout the night.
  • Know how your teen is getting home.
  • Get to know your teen’s friends and their parents.
  • Educate your teen on the responsible use of social media (i.e., Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat).
  • Balance your teen’s need for privacy with monitoring. Be flexible and willing to adjust your parenting style as your teen gets older.
  • Encourage cell phones, computers, or other electronic devices be turned off at bedtime.
  • Discuss positive qualities your teen can look for in a friend (i.e., honesty, respect, and kindness).

Activity Idea

Create a Safety Plan
  • Agree upon a time to pick up your teen from gatherings/events.
  • Set clear rules for calling you when plans change.
  • Talk about acceptable alternatives to getting a ride home.
  • Talk about “what if” scenarios and develop proactive solutions.

Note: If youth are going to drink, they tend to do it when adults are not around. Monitoring your teen’s activities means knowing who they are with, what they are doing, and where they are. 

Helpful Resources

Drug Free Kids Canada (Parent Support Hub)

Drinkwise Australia

Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction

Government of Canada

Renfrew County and District Health Unit

Ongoing communication with your teen allows them to share their interests and areas of concern with you. Evidence suggests general communication with your teen is associated with delayed substance use and a lower level of substance use later in life. 

Tips to Help Build Communication

  • Plan regular one-on-one time together. Enjoy activities together such as going for a walk or playing sports.
  • Eat dinner together on a regular basis. Spending quality time together promotes open communication.
  • Listen to what your teen has to say—don’t interrupt when they speak.

Activity Ideas

  • Prepare for the talk. Know key substance use facts. Evaluate your own behaviours and attitudes towards substance use.
  • Talk to your teen about alcohol and other drugs. Make it a conversation and ask open-ended questions. Think about your body language and tone of voice.
  • Emphasize the short-term risks associated with alcohol and other drugs. Avoid scare tactics or exaggerating negative effects.
  • Discuss perceptions of alcohol and other drugs. Encourage your teen to talk about their thoughts on alcohol and help them to realize that not everyone their age is drinking.
  • Talk about how alcohol is portrayed and often glamourized in the media (i.e., movies, TV shows, music videos, and online).
  • Talk about ways to manage peer pressure.

Helpful Resources

Drug Free Kids Canada (Parent Support Hub)
Drinkwise Australia

Setting clear expectations helps create an environment where rules are respected. It is important to establish reasonable boundaries and be consistent with discipline.

Tips When Setting Clear Expectations

  • Involve your teen in the development of rules and consequences.
  • Ensure you and your teen have a clear understanding of what is expected.
  • Be consistent when delivering consequences.
  • Remain calm when enforcing consequences if rules are broken.

Activity Idea: Develop Family Rules with Your Teen

Work Together
  • Base rules and consequences on age, the seriousness of the situation, and your teen’s personality.
  • Listen to your teen’s views and discuss options.
  • Write rules in a positive way. Focus on what the teen should do, rather than what they should not do.
  • Be flexible. Negotiate changes to the rules.
  • Ensure rules are clear, simple, and specific.
  • Create a list of appropriate consequences with your teen.
  • Set rules around substance use before a teen is exposed to a situation involving alcohol and/or other drugs.

Seek Support

  • Seek support from someone you and your teen look up to, such as a friend, family member, faith leader, or counsellor if you need further support or guidance on setting rules and consequences.

Helpful Resources

Drug Free Kids Canada (Parent Support Hub)

Renfrew County and District Health Unit

How much and when a parent chooses to drink alcohol or use other substances (i.e., cannabis) may affect their teen’s decisions about using alcohol and other drugs. Youth learn behaviours by observing adult role models.

Tips on Positive Role Modelling

  • Avoid using substances in excess in front of your teen.
  • Show your teen you and others can have a good time without alcohol and other drugs.
  • Make food and non-alcoholic drinks available when alcohol is consumed at gatherings/events.
  • Inform family and close friends  about the rules and expectations you have set for your teen around alcohol and other drugs and ask them to model responsible behaviour when possible.
  • Avoid telling stories where alcohol is portrayed as fun or glamorous.
  • Avoid using alcohol to cope with stress. Model healthy stress management strategies, such as going for a walk or exercising after a busy day. Invite your teen to join and have everyone describe one positive thing that happened in their day.
  • After a stressful day, avoid making statements such as, “What a day! I need a drink!” or “A drink will calm my nerves.”

Activity Ideas

  • Explore your own values and beliefs about alcohol and other drugs.
  • Think about how you want to model responsible behaviours around alcohol and other drugs.
  • When an actor/actress in a movie or TV show uses alcohol to help them relax, engage your teen in a conversation about healthy, non-alcoholic ways to reduce stress and relax.

Helpful Resources

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

A supportive parent–teen relationship can help delay when youth first try alcohol and other drugs and can lower their chances of developing problematic substance use later in life.

Tips to Help Improve Your Relationship With Your Teen

  • Support your teen in finding their passions and interests. Help them find their “spark”.
  • Be involved in your teen’s day-to-day life. Actively participate in activities that interest your teen.
  • Be consistent and follow through with agreements.
  • Show you care. Be warm but firm with your teen.
  • Encourage your teen to discuss problems and concerns with you.
  • Help build your teen’s self-confidence. Youth who face each day with confidence and a positive attitude are more likely to make healthy choices.

Activity Idea: Help Your Teen Find Their “Spark”

  • Have a Conversation: talk to your teen about activities that bring joy and energy into their life.
  • Observe: notice times when they are having fun and enjoying life by engaging in specific activities.
  • Explore: encourage your teen to try at least one new activity or pursue a new interest. Help them to identify and explore it.
  • Make Time: take the opportunity for quality one-on-one time with your teen as you share an interest in their new passion(s).
Examples of Sparks
  • Exercise, sports, cooking, music, movies

Remember: Warmth, bonding, and affection are all qualities of a positive parent–teen relationship. Talking openly and honestly with your teen is the root of a good relationship. Eating together as a family sets the stage for good conversations and sharing.

As a parent, you are legally responsible for what goes on in your house. This applies even if you are not present, you do not know your guests are drinking, or your guests brought their own alcohol.

Helpful Resources

Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction

Ontario Government

Government of Canada

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