Teaching the power of saying “no”

family at homeThe ever-present element of peer pressure is something that most teenagers have to deal with, and those moments can be among the most stressful that they face. Parents who want to keep their children away from drugs and alcohol can have open conversations with them about these confusing times. They can also go a step beyond that and advise them on how to respond, with specific examples that can be practiced and rehearsed, and how having like-minded friends can be advantageous as well.

Here’s a look at some ways parents can help their teens to say no, and to make the right choices.

Be brave

Easier said than done, sure, but parents can emphasize the idea that teens should not be afraid to say no, and that it takes courage to do it. Those who can do it then have the great advantage of avoiding all the dangers of drugs and alcohol. As described by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, teenagers staying true to themselves can have the best defense.

“Sometimes, our fear of negative reaction from our friends, or others we don’t even know, keeps us from doing what we know is right,” the council writes. “Real simple, it may seem like ‘everyone is doing it,’ but they are not. Don’t let someone else make your decisions for you. If someone is pressuring you to do something that’s not right for you, you have the right to say no, the right not to give a reason why, and the right to just walk away.”

Have support among friends

There can be strength in numbers. If teenagers have friends that understand the risks of drugs and alcohol, they will be better equipped to reject those things, and to feel good about doing it. Parents can help their children understand that the opposite can be true as well, as in making bad choices when among friends who use these substances. As the NCAAD suggests, “Pay attention to who you are hanging out with.”

“If you are hanging out with a group in which the majority of kids are drinking alcohol or using drugs to get high, you may want to think about making some new friends,” the council’s website states. “You may be headed toward an alcohol and drug problem if you continue to hang around others who routinely drink alcohol, smoke marijuana, abuse prescription drugs or use illegal drugs. You don’t have to go along to get along.”

Create practical excuses

The moment a teenager gets offered a drink or some form of drugs at a party for the first time can be tense and uncomfortable. This may continue throughout the often-awkward teenage years. So it’s smart for parents to work with teenagers on how to directly respond in those scenarios, if saying “no” might not be enough to fend off peer pressure. The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s NIDA for Teens site offers some helpful suggestions.

  • Be the driver: The thought of a car full of intoxicated teenagers, including the one behind the wheel, is a frightening one. Teens that want to avoid drinking can take on the driver role for their own protection, along with that of their friends. “Get your friends home safely,” the NIDA advises, “and everyone will be glad you didn’t drink or take drugs.”
  • Athletic reasons: “If you’re on a sports team, you can say you are staying healthy to maximize your athletic performance,” the NIDA states. “Besides, no one would argue that a hangover would help you play your best.”
  • Academic or family reasons: An upcoming test can be a valid reason for saying no, as the NIDA explains, as are things like a family trip or an event: “I can’t do that after a night of drinking/drugs.”
  • Have a drink already in hand: Bring a soda, water or other non-alcoholic drink along with you so that you’re not empty-handed at a party, the institute suggests. “People will be less likely to pressure you to drink alcohol if you’re already drinking something. If they still offer you something, just say ‘I’m covered.’”

Blame the parents

This may be the best excuse that a teenager can give. All teens deal with some level of tension with their parents, and that is certainly the case with the potential use of alcohol and drugs. Parents can offer themselves up as the bad guy if it will help the teen to say no, as Sarah Mahoney writes for Family Circle:

“Kids who can truthfully say, ‘No, I can’t — my mom said she would ground me for life’ have a crucial advantage when it comes to saying no to their peers, according to researchers from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. But that means parents have to tell kids, early and often, exactly what the rules are, and what the consequences will be if they are broken. Be as specific as possible. Say, ‘If I catch you smoking, you will lose your allowance and be grounded for a month.’ ‘If I find out you drank, you will lose the right to drive our car.’ ‘If I learn that you’ve had sex, I will chaperone every date you have until you turn 18.’ Knowing the consequences ahead of time makes it easier for kids to stay safe.”

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