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Youth Substance Use: Information for Parents

How Parents Can Help

You love your child and want to help, but some types of help can cause your child to keep using. For example, you may think you’re helping if you give others excuses for your child’s behavior. Or, you may get your child out of trouble or put up with behaviours that make you unhappy.

Helping your child

You may think you’re trying to help and support them, but some actions may make the situation worse. Ask yourself, “Is this going to make things worse or better?” If it will make things worse, don’t do it. Don’t expect to be perfect. When you make a mistake, see it as a chance to do things differently next time.

Giving your child money may seem like it will make the problem go away. But doing this means your child doesn’t have to face the outcome (consequences) of their actions. This makes it hard for your child to see there is a problem. If you’ve been giving money to your child thinking that it’s helpful, don’t be hard on yourself. Now that you know this isn’t helpful, you can decide whether or not to keep doing it.

It’s sometimes hard to know whether your behavior is helpful or not. If your child calls from a party because they can’t get home safely, it’s best if you help them. Pick them up or make plans to help them get home. When you ask yourself, “Is this going to make things worse or better?” This makes it easy to see that picking up your child will prevent something worse from happening. It will make things better, so it’s okay to do it.

Don’t ignore the problem

It can be hard to accept that your child is using substances in a harmful way. Sometimes it’s easier to hope the problem will go away on its own or work itself out. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.

Let your child know you’re worried about them. Tell them how their actions make you feel. You could say, “I’m really worried about you when you don’t come home at night. I’m scared something bad has happened.”

Let your child take responsibility for their behaviour

It’s normal to want to protect and help your child when they make a mistake. When your child uses substances in a harmful way, you may be tempted to make excuses for them. But this allows the substance use to keep happening. It’s important that you let your child take responsibility for their own behaviour.

You may want to act like this isn’t a big problem, especially to others. You may say, “He’s just a typical teen,” or, “My child doesn’t behave any different than other kids his age.” But this doesn’t help the situation.

Be honest. If there is a problem, it’s important to talk about it so you can help your child and get the support your family needs.

Get help and support from others

You may think it’s best to not share the problem with others and handle it within the family. But acting like there isn’t a problem just keeps it hidden. It’s important to talk to your partner, children, family, and others about your child’s substance use and how it makes you feel. By not talking about it, it can lead to feelings of shame and guilt.

Your child may not want you to change some of your behaviours if it leads to consequences for them. If you realize that some of your decisions may be making things worse, you may need help from a counsellor, a spiritual advisor, a support group, friends, family, teachers, or healthcare providers to make changes. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

More information

Alberta Health Services offers many addiction and mental health services to help you, your child, and your family, including:

  • information and prevention programs
  • group and family counseling
  • outpatient and residential treatment
  • the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Program (PChAD)

For more information or to find services near you, call Health Link at 811.

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