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Setting a Healthy Example for Your Teens

From the time they’re born, your children learn how to live in the world by watching and imitating those around them. Remember how easily they picked up expressions, including some you wished they hadn’t? Your kids learn to process what they see, make choices about what to mimic, and decide when to engage in certain behaviours by watching the things you do.

As parents, your actions and attitudes have the strongest influence when it comes to teaching your teen healthy decision making, including decisions about using drugs. Setting a good example when using opioid medications, other prescriptions and even alcohol, will help encourage your teen make healthy choices as they continue to grow and become more independent.

Model How You Want Teens to Behave

By making healthy, responsible decisions around your own use of substances - including drugs prescribed by doctors, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and illicit drugs, you demonstrate positive behaviour for your teen to mimic. This can help them later in life as they face difficult decisions and peer influence.

Try to provide your teens with good examples to follow:

  • Take care of yourself emotionally and physically.
  • Implement a healthy, balanced lifestyle, practice safe behaviours and avoid injury.
  • Follow your prescription: stick to the rules on the label to show you respect your medicine, trust your doctor, and have a healthy relationship with drugs.
  • Demonstrate that you know other ways to relieve or manage pain besides using opioids or other substances. Some people manage pain by going for a walk and getting some fresh air or drinking plenty of water. The more equipped children are with strategies to manage pain and other life problems, the better able they’ll be at embracing challenges with hope and confidence in their self-care skills.
  • If you feel that you are becoming dependent on opioids or other substances, talk to someone (a doctor, a counsellor) who may be able to help you reestablish a healthier relationship with substance use. This shows that you are able to recognize a problem and address it.

Help Teens Make Healthy Decisions

Kids grow up and eventually make their own decisions. By helping them learn how to make healthy decisions, you can protect them from slipping into unhealthy habits. You will also help them avoid being overly influenced by peers or other adults. Here are some ways to help your children develop positive decisions making processes:

  • Help them think through the reasons that they might choose to follow an example, or not
  • Talk through your own reasons for making the decisions you make and show how you decide on those steps.
  • Limit options to a manageable number when teens are making simple decisions around substance use.
  • Sharpen thinking skills by playing what-if scenario games (e.g., what would you do if you won a hundred dollars? Who would you choose to go on vacation with if we could bring someone? What would you do if you were invisible?).
  • Encourage slower thinking about decisions so teens don’t jump at the first thing they see (e.g., encourage them to reflect on why they would choose to delay trying alcohol or drugs, or why they would insist on sticking together when out with friends).
  • Help them reflect on decisions after the event - what was good about their decision? What was not so good?

Did you know?

Helping your teen learn how to make good decisions around substance use teaches them to embrace healthy habits for coping with peer pressure and emotional challenges. This builds resilience that will last a lifetime. This is the best protection you can offer!

For More Information

For more information about how to talk to your teens about substance use and overdose, see the following parenting articles:

Last Reviewed: December 2016