Being engaged in your children’s lives involves establishing expectations and limits. It means setting curfews and checking ahead with hosts of parties that your teens want to attend to make sure that a chaperone is present and alcohol is not. It means monitoring your children’s internet and social media activities, the movies they see, the concerts they attend, and the video games they play. It means enforcing consequences for stepping beyond the boundaries you set.
You can expect your kids to argue about almost every line you draw.
During CASAColumbia’s teen focus groups, kids have complained about the rules their parents established, but they also have admitted those rules show that “my parents really care about me.” Your children need and deserve guidance, information, supervision, and discipline. Children aren’t born knowing how to set their own boundaries. The rules you establish, the lines you draw, the messages you send, and the consequences you establish for violating those rules become your children’s internal compass for their own behavior.
Your children will appreciate and respect the rules you craft – not going to parties where alcohol is served, setting curfews and restrictions on movies or video games – if they understand the reasons behind those rules and if the rules are enforced consistently. If you explain the logic behind the rules and limits, it will help your children tap into that logic when faced with tough decisions and to exert self-control when confronted with inevitable temptations.
To the extent possible, the consequences for breaking the rules should be laid out in advance. This way, children know what to expect if they push the limits and will be more likely to accept the consequences as fair. Another advantage is that if your child breaks the rules, you can focus on what caused the behavior and how to make sure it won’t happen again, rather than arguing about the punishment.
So what should you do if you find out that your child is smoking, drinking, or using other drugs?
Hopefully, you have already talked to your kids about substance use and discussed your expectations for their behavior and the consequences for violating those expectations. If so, and your child has broken those rules, then you could say: “I’m disappointed that you decided to drink [use drugs], and I’m concerned about your safety. I’d like to talk about what happened and why you did it, and how you plan to avoid doing it again. In the meantime, you know what the consequences for breaking the rules are: you can’t use the car [or you’re grounded] for a week [month].”
It’s important to enforce consequences if you catch your child drinking or using other drugs. There’s no upside to letting it slide. Assess the situation. Was it a one-time event? If you are unsure whether your child just tried a substance once or is using regularly, have your child evaluated by a professional.
For more information on raising healthy and substance free kids, check out How to Raise A Drug-Free Kid: The Straight Dope for Parents.
What are some rules and consequences you’ve set at home? Tell us in the comment section below.