Did you know that in North Dakota, nearly 15% of high school students have had their first drink of alcohol by age 13? Did you know that youth who start drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to have a substance abuse disorder later in life? And did you know that 69% of youth report their parents as being the biggest influence on their decision whether to drink alcohol or engage in risky behaviors? 
No pressure, but parents – you’re it.
If tough talks with your teens don’t come naturally to you, don’t worry: Parents Lead, an evidence-based prevention program that provides education and resources to parents, professionals and communities, has broken it down into four things you can do at home, plus tips and ideas for each, to help promote healthy decision-making skills in your kids.
- Talk. According to Parents Lead, “Talking openly and honestly with your kids is one of the most effective way to support their behavioral health.” This can be surprisingly difficult for parents, but its importance cannot be underestimated. When talking about the serious stuff, like substance use, anxiety, depression, or safe sexual behaviors, keep it genuine, straightforward, nonjudgmental, and most importantly, calm – even if you’re screaming on the inside. (You are the adult, and You. Can. Do. It.) Parents Lead’s website has more on conversation starters and tips for successful communication.
- Monitor. Know what your kids are doing, where they are, and who they are with. Have clear boundaries and expectations and keep two-way communication open. This is not particularly popular with teens, but monitor their devices, too. (You might even require them to turn in their phones to you at night, for the simple fact that smart phones are negatively impacting teen sleep). It’s OK for you to be both a supportive parent AND the boss around your house.
- Role Model. According to Parents Lead, this includes modeling five important life skills: 1) Respect yourself and others – including friends, family members, teachers, and coaches. 2) Practice positive communication. You can often get your point across without screaming or using disrespectful language. 3) Be positive. What can you, and your kids, learn from hard situations? Focus on that. 4) Teach the value of health, including healthy eating, lifestyle, and attitudes toward substance abuse. And 5) Manage your anger. It’s important for kids to learn – ideally from adults – that having feelings is OK, but how we choose to respond to those feelings is not always OK.
- Support. Build a trusting relationship with your kids. Parents Lead states that the love, support, and trust you give them can “act as powerful weapons against peer pressure and the many challenges of everyday life, making your kids more resilient, happy, and healthy.” Most of us as parents want that for our children, but how do we make it happen? Be present, says Parents Lead. Eat dinner as a family, set aside quality time, know their likes and dislikes, and really listen to your kids.
Parents, you are on the front lines. It’s a complicated world for teens to navigate, and they need you more than ever. Please visit Parentslead.org/parents for more resources, tips and tools, and information that will help you help your teens.
 ND Youth Risk Behavioral Survey (YRBS), 2017
 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 2017
 GfK Roper Report, 2017
 PBS, 2017