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The opioid epidemic is a national concern and one that hits home for many. As a parent or caregiver, there are several preventive measures you can take to protect your youth from opioid abuse. Research shows that effective parenting skills can help prevent drug abuse and other risky behaviors among children and adolescents. Below are some ideas for how parents and caregivers can help their children avoid risky behaviors and successfully get through their teen years.

For one, show your child you love them every day. There are many ways to do this. Saying “I love you,” or “I’m proud of you,” or “good job” are a few ways to verbally express your love for your child. You can also demonstrate your feelings by giving hugs or writing positive notes and leaving them in lunch boxes or in backpacks. Attending your child’s sporting events, or taking him or her shopping, will show your child that you care, too.

Make one-on-one time for your child. Spending one-on-one time alone with your son or daughter can be a special time for both of you. That time together can let your child know you really care.

Talk about values. Use other opportunities, such as discussions about what happened at school, in the news, or on a TV show, to talk about your values. Don’t assume your children know what you believe and consider important.

Set limits. Children of all ages need rules to help provide them with structure for living. Setting limits teaches children that you care about them and that you want them to be safe and responsible. It’s a good idea to involve children in your limit discussions since they are more likely to cooperate in meeting that limit. Keep in mind that these discussions do not always mean that parents and kids agree on every rule, but at least they’ve had input. Be sure the rules are reasonable, clear, positive and enforceable. Your children should understand the “why” behind the limit and why it is important to follow it.

After rules are established, create consequences with your child if the rules are broken. Consequences should be related to a specific rule, and be reasonable and respectful. Remember, rules and consequences should change as your child grows and develops. Children and youth of all ages need rules to help provide them with structure for living. It is important that parents communicate rules and consequences clearly to their child ahead of time.

Monitor your child so you know where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing. Tracking your child’s behavior should start in early childhood and continue throughout the teen years, evolving as children grow and mature. One thing you can do to monitor your child is asking questions. Remember to ask them who, what, where and when. For example, ask: With whom will you be? What will you be doing? Where will you be? And, when will you be home? Other ways to track your kids’ activities include checking in with them by phone and getting to know their friends and their friends’ parents.

Solve problems together. Work together with your child, both of you listening to each other’s point of view, brainstorming solutions, and choosing options to try. As children move into the teen years it is far more effective to engage them in conversation with you to resolve issues than to expect them to follow your rules without question

Follow through with decisions. After an agreement has been reached, simply follow through by reminding your child about his or her agreement. Consistency from day to day between parents and/or partners and across situations is an important principle for parents to keep in mind.

Parents play a critical role in preventing their children from starting to use drugs and alcohol. Using love and limits, establishing consequences and following through with them, communicating with love and respect, and monitoring kids, are some of the ways that parents can help their youth succeed and avoid risky behaviors.

Karen Thomas is a Penn State Extension educator in Lackawanna County.