Setting Clear Rules

Research shows that young people are less likely to use tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs if their parents set clear rules about not doing so. If parents have not previously established rules around more basic activities of daily living, however, they will have little chance of getting their children to obey a rule about not using marijuana, tobacco, or other drugs.

Here are some rulemaking tips:

  1. Set clear rules and discuss in advance the consequences of breaking them. Don’t make empty threats or let the rule-breaker off the hook. Don’t impose harsh or unexpected new punishments.
  2. The rules must be consistently enforced; every time a child breaks the rules the parent should enforce a punishment.
  3. Punishments should involve mild, not severe, negative consequences. Overly severe punishments serve to undermine the quality of the parent-child relationship.
  4. Set a curfew. And enforce it strictly. Be prepared to negotiate for special occasions.
  5. Have kids check in at regular times when they’re away from home or school. Give them a phone card, change or even a pager with clear rules for using it. (When I beep you, I expect a call back within 15 minutes.)
  6. Call parents whose home is to be used for a party. On party night, don’t be afraid to stop in to say hello (and make sure that adult supervision is in place).
  7. Make it easy to leave a party where drugs are being used. Discuss in advance how to signal you or another designated adult who will come to pick your child up the moment he or she feels uncomfortable. Later, be prepared to talk about what happened.
  8. Listen to your instincts. Don’t be afraid to intervene if your gut reaction tells you that something is wrong. Review the Action Guide for Parents for more specific suggestions if you suspect or know your teen is using drugs.

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