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Helping Your Teen Say “No” and Finding Alternatives to Alcohol and Drugs
Home » Parenting Advice » Helping Your Teen Say “No” and Finding Alternatives to Alcohol and Drugs
Teens Say No

by Boys Town Contributor

tags: Harmful Behaviors, Teens, Troubled Youth, Understanding Behavior

Helping Your Teen Say “No” and Finding Alternatives to Alcohol and Drugs

The following is a Q&A with Boys Town chemical use expert Natasha Robinson on how parents can help teens learn to say "No" and come up with alternatives to alcohol and drugs use.  

Q: How can I help my teen learn to say "No" to drugs and alcohol?

A: It's important to give teens effective tools and strategies on how to say "No" to using, how to avoid it, and to educate them about the serious – and sometimes deadly – consequences that can come from it. An effective way to share this information is to do it in ways teens can relate to. If your teen likes athletics and is really involved in playing sports, you could use sports as a context to relay the information so it has maximum impact and value. For example, you could educate your teen about how smoking tobacco and pot can compromise his or her lungs, which can have a negative impact on the teen's endurance, speed, and performance. Also, you can inform your teen that drinking and drug use can zap the teen's energy and motivation, resulting in poor performances in practices and games. And finally, you can tell your teen the fact that getting caught using drugs or alcohol will jeopardize his or her spot on the team. This same kind of conversation can happen with teens interested in other areas like academics, clubs, music, theater, dance, and others. Connecting a preventative talk about avoiding chemical use to a teen's specific interests is an effective way to help him or her gain a clearer understanding of the harmful physical and emotional effects. It also helps teens get a more accurate perspective of their own desires, goals, and things they want to pursue and accomplish. When relayed in this matter, your words and message have a better chance of being heard and valued because they relate directly to the teen and connects with something he or she already finds important and valuable.

Q: How can I help my teen find alternatives to using drugs and alcohol? 

A: A good way to do this is to help teens identify fun activities to do during the unstructured social times when they are likely to encounter drugs and alcohol. Many teens engage in substance use because they report:

  • "There was nothing to do."
  • "We were all so bored."
  • "I didn't know what to say."
  • "I didn't know what else to suggest doing."

To combat these reasons, parents can encourage teens to think outside the box about what it means to have fun. Have conversations with them about what fun really is and what it can look like, and help them come up with unique, enjoyable activities they may have never done before or even thought about doing. And they can be inexpensive and spontaneous. Some examples might include:

  • Have a pizza party and play cards or board games.
  • Have a tournament – volleyball, badminton, dodgeball, chess, quidditch…anything can be fun if it's a competition!
  • Hold a "French fry run" where teens go to various restaurants, get French fries, and do a taste test at someone's house.
  • Do a movie marathon. Have others bring candy, soda, popcorn, or other movie treats. Discuss the merits of each movie before moving on to the next one.
  • Have a concert with friends who are musical and play in bands.    
  • Have a potluck where instead of people bringing completed dishes, have them bring ingredients so everyone can cook together.
  • Have a karaoke or dance night.
  • Hold a scavenger hunt with clues spread out in the community and a prize at the end.

The key is to sit down with teens to help them come up with creative, fun things to do with their friends. Doing this gives teens alternative activities to put in their back pockets to suggest when others want to go to a park to get high or drunk. Now, your teen can say, "No, let's go do this instead. This sounds like fun!" All it takes is one person in a group to navigate everybody out of a negative situation and into a positive one.