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Children need boundaries and want limits and for their parents to be paying attention. However, “one size does not fit all”, and there are no black and white rules. Parenting requires a nuanced approach. Every family has their own dynamics and values. Each parent has their own style and relationship with their child.  

Your rules and level of monitoring should depend on these factors:

• Your relationship with your child

   and their openness with you 

• Their age and maturity 

• Their temperament 

• Their track record — as well as

   those of their friends.

Even if you think experimentation is an inevitable “rite of passage”, don’t make it easy. As a parent, you are your child’s first line of defense. It’s your job to put barriers and “speed bumps” in place to at first prevent and delay substance use. If your child is using, then its especially important to keep it moderate and safe and to seek professional help if needed.

Here are tips to pick and choose from, depending on the above factors and whether your primary goal is "prevention" (abstinence and delay of use) or “harm reduction”(moderation and safety).


BE "AUTHORITATIVE". Parents should always discourage and do what they can to limit their child’s substance use, even with an older teen who is using. Yet an ‘“authoritarian” approach of “NO because I said so!!” is not effective. Age appropriate limits should be set in an authoritative manner with warmth and understanding. Rules should be discussed and explained ahead of time and then children should be reminded about those rules frequently.

Your rules should depend on all the factors listed above and whether your immediate goal is “prevention” or “harm reduction”.  



Ask your child about their plans before they go out. If uncertain, request that they check in and keep you updated. Talk by phone, FaceTime or text, depending on the circumstances. Tracking through “Find My Friends” or other phone app such as Life 360 (which shows a history of where they’ve been) is a very personal decision, with pros and cons. Asking them to use a land line to ensure they are where they say is another option.


Be aware that your child can track you too! By knowing your whereabouts, clever kids can throw a party, kick everyone out and clean up before you make it home.


How closely you monitor your child depends on their openness, trustworthiness, and who they are hanging out with. And what you need for peace of mind.


CONSIDER WHETHER TO ALLOW ATTENDANCE AT LARGE PARTIES WITH OLDER TEENS AND SLEEPOVERS . Parents of younger teens (especially rising freshman and sophomores) should consider saying “not yet” or otherwise discourage their teens from attending large parties or those with teens from more senior grades. The world of a 14-15 year old is very different from that of a 17-18 year old.   


Parties with older teens usually involve substance use. Parents are often absent from these parties, the parties are loosely supervised, parents look the other way or some parents even provide alcohol. 


Regardless of the size of the party (small ones are called “kick backs”) consider using the BTI Parent Directory to reach out to the hosting parents and confirm your child is invited, and whether adults will be present. If the parents are not BTI Parents,use other means to make contact, ask whether the party will be supervised and substance-free and whether efforts will be made to keep it so. Also, be wary about last minute sleepover requests.

Teens drinking and driving

DO NOT ALLOW YOUR NEW TEEN DRIVER TO DRIVE OTHER TEENS.  Know who your child is driving with and whether the driver has a restricted “provisional” license. Under the law, new drivers should not be driving friends until they have had their license for a specified period of time. (In California it’s one year). Having new drivers with friends in the car greatly increases the risk of an accident and can result in substantial liability. Say “no” to this one, even if it makes life more convenient.


DON'T PLACE ABSOLUTE TRUST IN DESIGNATED DRIVERS.  Healthy Kids Surveys show that too many so-called designated drivers are simply less drunk or high than their passengers. Moreover, many kids have the mistaken belief that driving stoned is slower and safer than driving drunk. Both are dangerous. Read Driving Under the  Influence of Cannabis.

setting appropriate curfews

SET REASONABLE CURFEW AND CHECK-INS. There is no reason for children to be out at all hours of the night. Most local curfew laws are at 11pm or midnight. Start with an earlier curfew for middle schoolers. For rising freshman and sophomores, think about what time is okay for a senior to come home at night. Then count backwards.


Realize that with every year, you will want to move your teen’s curfew a little later to reward good behavior and acknowledge growing maturity and freedom. Of course, sometimes flexibility is called for with a later curfew than normal. But if you start early with a blanket midnight curfew, you will soon find yourself in trouble.  


DISCIPLINE, NOT PUNISH.  “You’re grounded for a month!” was a typical but ineffective punishment from our generation. Discipline, which come from the Latin word for “pupil” is a better approach than punishment, which comes from “causing pain” and “taking vengeance”. Instead, explain to your child why their actions were inconsistent with your family values, discuss the consequences, and give them a “way back” by reflecting on what they did, learning and making amends. In this way, you establish “connection before correction”.


IMPOSE EFFECTIVE CONSEQUENCES. Effective consequences include “logical consequences” (which are connected to the original behavior), loss of privileges for a short period of time (taking away something your teen enjoys) and “natural consequences” (which provides correction without any parental action). 


If you do opt for grounding, don’t necessarily cut off all social contact, e.g., ban your child from texting or messaging friends. Although losing this privilege will be impactful, “FOMO” by itself is powerful and knowing what is being missed surely will be felt.


Lastly, involving your child in designing the consequence (although you have the final say) will result in less resistance and resentment. Once the consequence is set, follow through and stick to it like glue!


GIVE A "GOODBYE" REMINDER, "HELLO" HUG OR "GOOD NIGHT" KISS.  Be around if possible when your child leaves for a night out, perhaps with a reminder of your rules and consequences. This will also ensure there is no “pre-gaming” at your home. After a night out, parents should stay up to greet their child, look them in the eye and give them a hello hug or good night kiss (and a discreet sniff) when they come home. Have a conversation with them so they know you will be assessing their sobriety. Try not to be asleep or out on the town yourself when they return home.


IF YOU ARE LEAVING YOUR HOUSE UNATTENDED, TAKE PRECAUTIONS. The majority of parties with underage substance use occur when parents are away. If you are going out for the day or evening or going out of town, ensure your house won’t become “The Party Spot.” Tell your neighbors you will be out and to text you if they see/hear anything. Make sure you are not the one who is being tracked through “Find My Friends” or another app! Never hesitate to contact police for help if a party gets out of control. Local police also can be contacted for drive-by “vacation checks.”


Teens are often on the hunt for a house without parents. There are many temptations for a child left alone. Think carefully about whether you will permit your child to have friends over. Factors to be considered include your child’s temperament and trustworthiness and those of their friends. At the very least, require they ask your permission before they invite friends to your home. Be clear about your rules and explain you could be held liable under civil and criminal laws for underage substance use.

Parents liquor cabinet

"TEEN PROOF" YOUR HOME. Reduce easy access to alcohol, cannabis and prescription drugs by “teen proofing” your home. Lock up or otherwise secure or keep track of any alcohol and other drugs. Consider purchasing a prescription drug “lock box” or “lock-top bottles” for alcohol, available inexpensively online. Don’t make it too much of a temptation for your child to use alcohol or other drugs — even if you think it is an inevitable “rite of passage.”


HIDDEN STASHES AND FAKE ID'S.  Periodically check for hidden alcohol, cannabis and other drugs, vaping devices or other paraphernalia. Teens can be creative with hiding places so be on the lookout for items such as storage boxes, hollowed out books as well as “fake ID’s”, all of which can be found in bedrooms, cars and wallets. Fake ID’s are easy to obtain online and usually come in pairs. If you confiscate one, chances are a second one is around.


LIMIT OR KEEP TRACK OF UBER, LYFT OR TAXI RIDES. There is no question that ride services are saving lives. While certainly safer than driving drunk or drugged, these forms of transportation can enable excessive levels of substance use. Consider restrictions and limitations for younger teens who don’t have a driver’s license, especially if you or other parents are able to drive them. For older teens who are driving, keep track of how frequently your teen is using these services. Frequent rides may well indicate a substance use issue.


TRUST YOUR TEEN....TO BE A TEEN!  Teen brains are wired for risk taking. A common refrain of teens to parents is “You don’t trust me!” The response? “It’s the situation that is giving us pause. I don’t think any teen would do well in an unsupervised party environment”, “we’re not sure if we trust all the others you will be with”, “trust is earned, not given” or “we trust you to be a teenager!”

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