Drugs and alcohol

Drugs and alcohol are now freely available to teenagers and even younger children in New Zealand. The question then is, what makes some children take up drug or alcohol habits when others avoid these substances? Unfortunately, despite the extensive research, there is no ready answer.

However, parents can take many positive steps to ensure their children are aware of the risks and consequences. Parents’ contribution can help reinforce the messages coming from schools and the Police.

21 tips for parents.

American research suggests children who learn from their parents or caregivers about the risks of drugs are 36% less likely to smoke marijuana than children who don’t, 50% less likely to use inhalants, 56% less likely to use cocaine, and 65% less likely to use LSD.

You are the most powerful influence in your child’s daily life. The following 21 tips can help you turn your child away from the influence of drugs and alcohol that seem almost inevitable nowadays.

Get involved.

Kids who are close to their parents are least likely to engage in risky behaviours. The more involved you are in your children’s lives, the more valued they’ll feel, and the more likely they’ll be to respond to you.

  1. Establish ‘together time’, a regular weekly routine for doing something special with your child – even something as simple as going out for ice cream.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask where your kids are going, who they’ll be with and what they’ll be doing. Get to know your kid’s friends – and their parents – so you’re familiar with their activities.
  3. Try to be there after school when your child gets home. The ‘danger zone’ for drug use is between 4pm and 6pm, when no one’s around. Arrange flexible time at work if you possibly can. If your child will be with friends, ideally they have adult supervision – not just an older sibling.
  4. Eat together as often as you can. Meals are a great opportunity to talk about the day’s events, to unwind, reinforce, bond. Studies show that kids whose families eat together at least five times a week are less likely to be involved with drugs or alcohol.

Learn to communicate.

Do you know your kid’s favourite music group? What’s cool at school? The more you communicate, the more at ease your child will feel about discussing drugs and other sensitive issues with you.

  1. Be absolutely clear with your kids that you don’t want them using drugs. Ever. Anywhere. Don’t leave room for interpretation. And talk often about the dangers and results of drug and alcohol abuse. Once or twice a year won’t do it.
  2. Be a better listener. Ask questions – and encourage them. Paraphrase what your child says to you. Ask for their input about family decisions. Showing your willingness to listen will make your child feel more comfortable about opening up to you.
  3. Give honest answers. Don’t makeup what you don’t know; offer to find out. If asked whether you’ve ever taken drugs, let them know what’s important: that you don’t want them using drugs.
  4. Use TV reports, anti-drug commercials, news or school discussions about drugs to help you introduce the subject in a natural, unforced way.
  5. Don’t react in a way that will cut off further discussion. If your child makes statements that challenge or shock you, turn them into a calm discussion of why your child thinks people use drugs, or whether the effect is worth the risk.
  6. Role play with your child and practise ways to refuse drugs and alcohol in different situations. Acknowledge how tough these moments can be.

Walk the walk.

  1. Be a living, day-to-day example of your value system. Show the compassion, honesty, generosity and openness you want your child to have.
  2. Know that there is no such thing as ‘do as I say, not as I do’ when it comes to drugs. If you take drugs, you can’t expect your child to take your advice. Seek professional help if necessary.
  3. Examine your own behaviour. If you abuse drugs or alcohol, know that your kids are inevitably going to pick up on it. Or if you laugh uproariously at a movie when someone is drunk or stoned, what message does that send to your child? Be a role model; the person you want your kid to be. What stronger anti-drug message is there? Lay down the law Kids between 11-13 – ages highly at risk for drug experimentation ñ are increasingly independent. Despite their protests, they still crave structure and guidance; they want you to show them you care enough to set limits.
  4. Create rules – and discuss in advance the consequences of breaking them. Make your expectations clear. Don’t make empty threats or let the rule-breaker off the hook. Don’t impose harsh or unexpected new punishments.
  5. Set a curfew. And enforce it strictly. Be prepared to negotiate for special occasions.
  6. Have kids check in at regular times. Give them a cell phone, a phone card, change or even a pager, with clear rules for using it. (Remember, pagers and cellphones are not allowed in some schools.)
  7. 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).
  8. Make it easy to leave a party where drugs are being used. Discuss in advance how you or another designated adult will come to pick your child up the moment he or she feels uncomfortable. Later, be prepared to talk about what happened.
  9. Listen to your instincts. Don’t be afraid to intervene if your gut reaction tells you that something is wrong.


  1. Praise good behavior consistently and immediately. Expressions of love, appreciation and thanks go a long way. Even kids who think themselves too old for hugs will appreciate a pat on the back.
  2. Accentuate the positive. Emphasise the things your kid does right. Restrain the urge to be critical. Affection and respect – making your child feel good about himself – will reinforce good (and change bad) behaviour far more successfully than embarrassment or uneasiness. What encourages a kid more than his or her parents’ approval? The right word at the right time can strengthen the bond that helps keep your child away from drugs.

Police Youth Education Service.

The Police Youth Education Service (YES) promotes individual safety to young people, families, teachers and school communities, to help create safer communities. Police Education Officers are working in partnership with teachers in the classroom to achieve this goal.

YES has identified four strategic themes for educational programmes: Crime Prevention and Social Responsibility Programmes included in this theme are designed to encourage children and young people to behave responsibly, assist with crime prevention and help keep communities safe. Topics include stealing, vandalism, search and rescue, shoplifting, being lost, community support, fingerprinting, keeping law and order, the role of the Police and Police dogs.

Drug Abuse Resistance Programme (DARE) is a Police education programme that has been running in New Zealand since 1989. The programme is aimed at school children of all ages, and is co-ordinated by the Youth Education Service of the Police and the DARE Foundation of New Zealand, through more than 50 local DARE support committees. Through a range of DARE programmes, young people are empowered to avoid illegal drugs and make sensible choices about their use of alcohol and other legal drugs.

Some DARE programmes have been developed for use in school classrooms, including a programme in Maori for classes using Te Reo. Other programmes are for the community (parents/caregivers and young people in trouble), and are managed by the community section of DARE. School Road Safety Education Programmes and resources in this theme have been designed to enable children and young people to act safely on roads and among traffic.

The Road Safe series are integrated road safety programmes for years 0-13. The DARE programme about drinking and driving for ages 15-17 is also in this theme. Violence Prevention Violence prevention programmes are designed to promote the development of non-violent relationships and to give children and young people skills to manage violence they may encounter.

The child abuse prevention programme Keeping Ourselves Safe and the bullying prevention programme Kia Kaha are important in this theme. There are also teaching materials about keeping safe at home, babysitting and dealing with anger.

Thank you to the Office of National Drug Control Policy for providing us with this educational resource.