Sex, alcohol, drugs . . . These are subjects many adults would just as soon not discuss with young people.
But if parents and other caring adults don't step up and talk to young people about these things, who will? Make it easy for young people to come to you and talk about the temptations in their lives. Avoid judging. Listen, and educate.
Communicating with young people about the risks of sex, use of alcohol or other drugs is important. Labeling them as bad is not necessarily helpful. Instead, explain the dangers: having sex can lead to pregnancy and disease; using alcohol or other drugs causes you to lose control over your functions, which can lead to serious, even fatal, accidents; substance use can also damage the developing teenage brain. Work with young people to focus on long-term outcomes-not just on the moment. Helping them to internalize and stand up for their personal values also makes it easier for them to practice restraint and withstand negative peer pressure. If they do get in trouble with these issues, though, make sure they know they can come to you for help.
In your home: Look for opportunities to respond to messages in the media about sexuality and use of alcohol and other drugs. Discuss your reaction and ask for your child's opinion.
In your community: Keep everyone accountable. Make a pact with your neighbors not to allow alcohol at parties for young people-and to report to other parents if you hear of or see young people using alcohol or other drugs.
In your school or youth program: As you promote drug-free and alcohol-free lifestyles, remember to teach teens how to make positive decisions.
Restraint gets a bad rap these days as something old-fashioned or unrealistic. Research, however, shows that young people who refrain from sexual activity and the use of alcohol and other drugs are more likely to grow up healthy. These young people are less likely to chew tobacco or smoke cigarettes, fight, steal, or feel depressed. Further, drinking and driving or riding in a car with someone who's been drinking are also less likely to happen when young people practice restraint.
Ian Eastman coordinates Healthy Communities-Healthy Youth on behalf of Family Services. This article was adapted from Instant Assets, published by Search Institute.