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Keeping Teens Alcohol- and Smoke-Free

Drinking too much and any smoking at all are bad habits for anyone. For teens, though, drinking and smoking are particularly problematic. Starting such negative habits at an early age can cause heavy damage to the developing brain and body. The best way to protect young people from the harm of cigarettes and alcohol is to prevent them from starting these bad habits in the first place, and some preventive techniques work better than others:

  • Set an example – Parents and other influential adults have a great amount of power when it comes to drinking and smoking among young people. Parents who engage in these habits are more likely to have kids who will experiment. If you have kids of any age, set the right example by not smoking, quitting if you do smoke, and drinking only in moderation. It’s true that teens like to rebel against their parents, but they also listen to you. Start setting your example early and they will be even more receptive to it.
  • Understand your teen – Teens are naturally rebellious, but they also have a strong desire to fit in with their peers. You may be a long way from having been a teen yourself, so remembering these motivations may be difficult. Try to understand what your teen is thinking. Talk to her about why she might feel compelled to drink or smoke and then have a conversation about how to make good choices in the face of peer pressure and the desire to break the rules.
  • Talk about the risks – If teens understand all the risks inherent in a behavior, they will be less likely to engage in it. Some teens will always want to take that risk anyway, but most will listen to reason. In fact, a survey of teens over the last 35 years found that overall rates of drinking and smoking cigarettes are steadily declining. The reason seems to be perceived risk. Teens are beginning to recognize the harm in smoking and binge drinking and are participating in them less as a result. Unfortunately, the perceived risk of marijuana has gone down, with teen use going up. If you can help your teen to understand the risks, he will be less likely to smoke or drink.
  • Community-based initiatives – They say it takes a village to raise a child, and for prevention of smoking, drinking, and other bad habits, community initiatives can act as that village. One such program, called Communities That Care, directs preventive measures at middle school-aged children. Research has shown that prevention at this age can go a long way toward minimizing drinking and smoking later. Children who have participated in the program have been shown to experience decreased incidences of general delinquency, including drinking and smoking. The evidence shows that such community-based prevention can make a big impact on the decisions that teens and preteens make.

Keeping teens from smoking and drinking is an important public health issue as well as an important personal issue for many families. To keep your children protected from these harmful habits, talk to them, get to know them, set the best example you can, educate them and get them involved in positive community groups. The more you are involved with your teens, the more likely they will be to follow your example and make good decisions.

There is still hope.

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