Pill BottleParents of preteens and teenagers carry around a mental checklist of the potentially dangerous things they’ll have to talk with their kids about — sex, alcohol, and drugs among them. But whether they settle on a message of strict avoidance or careful moderation, parents often overlook some of the most readily accessible and equally dangerous substances lurking in their homes: prescription pills and over-the-counter medication.

It isn’t that parents don’t realize how dangerous medicine can be. Anyone who’s ever picked up a celebrity gossip mag can recount tales of famous people felled by perfectly legal pills. The trouble stems from “I know and trust my child” thinking, which has two major drawbacks.

First, regardless of a child’s seeming reliability, our brains are not fully developed until we are in our early 20’s. During the developmental years, teenagers are impulsive and often incapable of making responsible decisions. So even if you think you can trust your child to keep out of the medicine cabinet, it’s impossible to know when his or her judgment may lapse.

Add to that the fact that teens — especially younger ones — are more influenced by their peers than their parents, and the chance of your child making an unsafe decision grows. Peer pressure to try drugs, alcohol or that seemingly benign cough medicine you’ve got lying around is often enough to override whatever safe behavior parents have taught their children to use.

But there’s still plenty parents can do to keep their kids safe from drug and alcohol abuse, including dipping into your medicine cabinet.

8 safety tips for parents:

  • Know your child’s friends and activities. “Parent Knowledge” is a strong predictor of teenage risk behavior.
  • Be aware of the social networking sites your teenager uses. Twitter, for example, is highly influential in attracting teens to marijuana use.
  • Use current events to start the dialogue. Whether it’s a classmate in trouble, a celebrity in the news, or a relative with a drug problem, take advantage of ways to get the conversation started about all kinds of drug use and dangers.
  • Be direct. Make it clear that “drugs” include medicines in your home.
  • Provide rules. Preteens and teens need rules and boundaries as much as younger children. Make it clear what yours are, why you have them and what the consequences are for not following them.
  • Keep lines of communication as open as possible. Encourage your child to come to you with questions. Be clear that he or she can confide in you if feeling pressured. Or, your child can even to use you as an excuse if a friend is trying to convince him or her to engage in risky behavior.
  • Make it clear that you love your child no matter what. If he messes up, you will be unhappy. But, you’ll be pleased that he came to you.
  • Be vigilant. Keep an inventory of what’s in your medicine cabinet and regularly monitor how much remains. Be especially aware if your child’s friends have been in your home when you weren’t.


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