Today’s children are at risk of developing various addictions that can have serious effects on the entire family. Responding to these risks before they turn into large problems may be difficult but not impossible. Numerous researches that have been conducted show that parents and family members can have a significant impact on children's decisions and behavior and that this impact can be crucial in preventing the development of addictions.
The Role of Family in Child’s Development
The earliest interactions of a child occur within the family and they can be either positive or negative. Therefore factors that have effects on the early development of a child in the family prove to be very important. The studies show that children who live in a chaotic home environment where there is the lack of nurturing by parents and mutual attachment, lack of effective parenting and significant relationship with a caring adult, where one or both parents abuse substances, suffer from other forms of addictions or mental illnesses, are engaged in criminal behaviors are more likely to develop addictions and problematic behaviors themselves. Such experiences can have negative impacts on child’s bonding with the family and threaten his/her feeling of security essential for his/her healthy development. But, parents can also have a healthy influence on their children by creating a strong bond and building a supportive and warm relationship with them, monitoring their children and being involved in their life, being good role models, enforcing discipline and setting clear limits, etc.
Building a Supportive and Warm Relationship With a Child
It has been proven that children who have a supportive and warm relationship with their parents from the very beginning are less likely to develop addictions. Although mutual attachment and bonding between parents and children occur in infancy and their early childhood, a close relationship with them should be maintained during their further development as well. Parents should make sure that their children grow up in caring and supportive family environments where parents will have high expectations of their children and encourage them to participate actively in everyday family routines. They should be warm, praise and support their children, show them affection and create a strong bond with them and in that way reduce the risk of developing addictions.
Monitoring, Supervising and Setting Boundaries
Although being supportive and warm is an effective parenting strategy, parents should not allow their children to do what they want; they should monitor and supervise their children and set clear boundaries and limits that will help the children learn to be responsible for their actions.
According to the evidence, the children who are properly monitored and supervised by their parents are less likely to develop addictions. Monitoring and supervising activities include getting to know the friends of their children and discussing strategies aimed at avoiding and handling the situations where they may come in touch with alcohol, tobacco, drugs and other things that may lead to addiction, keeping track of children’s academic performance, etc. If parents are familiar enough with their children’s friends and activities they will be able to prevent risky situations and intervene if necessary easier. However, parents should be careful not to be overprotective and thus impede children’s development of essential socialization skills.
As for setting clear rules and boundaries, parents should set firm, but reasonable rules, explain to a child why they are setting the boundaries and make sure that the child is aware of the consequences if the rules are not followed properly.
Being a Good Role Model
Researches also show that children are likely to learn behavior by observing the behavior of their parents. They can model both healthy and unhealthy behaviors of their parents so the parents should be careful about their attitude about certain activities, alcohol, tobacco, drugs and other substances as this can have a significant effect on the future behavior of their children.
Family-Based Prevention Programs
There are many drug prevention speakers and family-based prevention programs established with the purpose of educating and helping parents raise their children to avoid addictions. The programs proved to be of immense help to the parents so far. Such programs usually include training in drug education and information, practice in discussing, developing and enforcing family policies on substance abuse, enhancing parenting skills, etc. Among other things, the programs also offer the parents opportunities to work with other people in their community to increase the awareness about the addiction problems and develop methods for their prevention.
*U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Drug Abuse – Preventing Drug Use among Children and Adolescents – A Research Based Guide for Parents, Educators and Community Leaders, Second Edition
*Parents Translational Research Center – 6 Parenting Practices Help Reduce the Chances Your Child Will Develop a Drug or Alcohol Problem
*The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University - Family Matters: Substance Abuse and The American Family
*Behavioral Sciences - Adolescent Alcoholism and Drug Addiction: The Experience of Parents by Peter W. Choate
*Aware Parenting Institute – Raising Drug-Free Kids