Written by: Amanda Henderson
Showing your children how to make healthy, safe decisions is one of the most important lessons a parent can teachtheir child. It’s easy to help them make these decisions when you are right there by their side — but it’s those intimidating moments when you’re not around that you want to feel confident they are making good choices.
Unfortunately, you won’t always be there physically to support your child when they are offered alcohol, reach for their phone while driving, or sit on the couch all day playing video games. However, you can make the most of the times that you are there — in ways that will impact their decision-making for the rest of their lives. Here’s how:
Saying No to Drugs and Alcohol
Your child will be faced with the temptation to try tobacco, alcohol, and drugs at a much earlier age than you probably realize. In fact, studies show that many kids try their first sip of alcohol between 11 and 13 years old. On average, exposure to marijuana happens just a few years later. Since your child’s brain is still developing until the age of 25, it’s important they learn how to confidently say no to peer pressure. Plus, some of these habits, like smoking tobacco, may seem harmless at first, but can quickly turn into a lifelong habit with serious health consequences. Teach them to turn away from temptation by:
- Using an excuse like “I have to be up early in the morning” or “I’ve tried it before and that stuff makes me sick.”
- Encouraging your child to participate in team sports or school activities where both coaches and teammates create a drug-free support system.
- Empowering your child to speak truthfully to peer pressure by practicing phrases like: “Do you know what that stuff does to your body? No, thanks!” or “Go ahead and destroy your mind. I’m good.”
Staying Safe on the Road
When your child starts to drive, you may not always be there to remind them of good habits. In fact, there might even be others there trying to pressure them into bad habits. Teach your teen road safety by:
- Putting away phones while driving. Never, ever text and drive — not even at a stop light.
- Monitoring and celebrating responsible driving by using a safe driving app.
- Keeping a two-second cushion (about two car spaces) between their car and the car in front.
- Calling you to come get them if they are overtired or distracted.
- Using high beams when driving on country roads where wildlife is prevalent.
- Slowing down and breaking earlier in weather where roads may be icy or snowy.
Searching for Balance
We all have days where we want to veg out on the couch, watch TV and eat macaroni and cheese — regardless of age. And days like that are okay, as long as they are infrequent. Teach your child how to be healthy now and in the future by showing them how to strike a balance between vegging out and exercise, healthy meals and sweet snacks, and playing on the tablet and reading a book. You can give them the tools to make lifelong good choices by:
- Giving them occasional structured “veg out time” where they can choose which activity — like video games, TV or tablet — they want to do. Of course, make sure you have the right tech (whatever technology you need, you can find affordable options) and an internet connection that can keep up with everything!
- Following up “veg out time” with something productive and social, like going for a walk, riding a bike or playing a board game with the family.
- Allowing them to help you in the kitchen, making decisions together about meals and exploring healthy ingredients and recipes.
Encourage Them to Journal
Journaling helps everyone work through emotions so we aren’t bogged down by difficult life experiences that can preoccupy our minds. Children can enjoy these benefits too–especially those who have suffered stress and trauma. Giving children an avenue to express themselves can be a powerful tool to support their mental health by processing and letting go of negative or overwhelming thoughts so they can make better decisions. For a simple and effective form of journaling, download a free journal from the and encourage your child to write down their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Using The Imagine Project writing process can relieve short-term stress, ease depression and anxiety, and improve their academic performance.
Teaching is Doing
We’ve all heard the old adage, “Monkey see, monkey do.” In the 20th century, childhood psychologists proved that it wasn’t just a game — it’s how children learn and decide which behaviors are right and wrong. By showing your children which behaviors are appropriate, you set them up for success into adulthood. When you demonstrate all of the above behaviors your child will watch and learn. You can even take online classes yourself or together if you share a common interest—teaching them a good work ethic and commitment.
There is no manual for good parenting. There are, however, a lot of studies, theories and common-sense information that can help guide you along the way. As long as you are coming from a place of love and respect, you are well on your way to teaching your child resilience and self-reliance in any situation.
Thank you Amanda for writing this blog. Stay safe out there!
Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN
Dianne is the founder and CEO of The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps children K-12 (and adults) process and heal from difficult life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne has her Masters in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing, has written multiple books, is an international speaker, lives outside of Denver, CO, and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.