From the moment of conception, your world changes forever as you are confronted by the knowledge that it is your job to nurture, provide and protect this precious life that shares your blood. Never have you felt more vulnerable than as you gaze upon your newborn child, wondering about the miracle of life and the intensity of your love for this child. In those early years, you are focused on the task of raising this child to be a ‘good’ person. You do all you can to protect your child from harm and teach them to respect and care for their own health and wellbeing.
However there comes the time when you can no longer protect your child. In order for your adolescent to develop towards a mature, well-adjusted adult, it is imperative that they separate from you and find their own identity. Called individuation, this is a biological imperative that drives your adolescent to learn independence in order to survive and thrive as they stand on the threshold of adult life. With their growing independence comes the need for you as a parent to step back and allow your child to explore their world and learn how to function independent of you.
But, you ask, can I you trust my adolescent to make wise and safe choices without me?
Seemingly overnight, your child undergoes a personality transformation: private and brooding, angry and insolent or just plain disagreeable and moody. Spending hours on social media, you feel shut out and unappreciated by this stranger in your household. Your anxiety heightens with the distance that has emerged between you and your child and with that, the fear that your adolescent will be vulnerable to other influences inviting them to experiment with drugs.
The good news is that you can have a very positive influence. There is a growing and strong body of research indicating that parental influence is the most underutilized tool in preventing adolescent substance misuse.
What does the research tell us?
- Parents are most often identified as the individuals who have talked to a child about drugs
- Young people consider parents to be credible sources of information about drugs
- As agreements between young people and parents go up, drug involvement goes down
- A supportive, warm relationship with one significant adult can be enough to protect a young person against adverse events
- Effective parenting is a key factor in reducing adolescent risk-taking behaviour
- The likelihood of alcohol misuse can be seen as a direct result of low levels of parental action
The key to ‘safe-guarding’ your child from substance abuse is primarily your relationship. Where your adolescent feels secure, accepted and encouraged, they will remain connected to you and therefore less vulnerable to negative influences. On the other hand, where your adolescent feels criticised, blamed, judged and misunderstood they will feel insecure and more vulnerable to the same negative influences. Above all, be aware that your anxiety is very likely to be communicated in ways that have a negative influence on your adolescent, so be pro-active about any anxiety you experience and talk to a counsellor about it.
If you are aware that the connection you have with your adolescent is insecure, give consideration to seeking professional help to support your relationship. A professional family counsellor can assist you to recover and rebuild a supportive and secure relationship with your young adult.