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The power of parents

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You are the role model

Parents* are their children’s strongest role model and greatest influence. Your children will eventually adopt many of your values* and types of behaviour, just as you have been influenced by your parents. Your children notice and respond to the way you deal with problems, express feelings and celebrate special occasions.

As a parent, it is impossible to not model. Your children will see your example—positive or negative—as a pattern for the way life is to be lived.

What do you do when somebody in the family (including yourself) makes a mistake? Do you get angry or upset and look for someone or something to blame? Or do you calmly assess what has gone wrong and consider what you can learn from the experience and how to avoid having the same problem come up again? If you get angry or excessively upset, do you apologize afterwards for behaving inappropriately?

Families are both a very important protective factor* and risk factor* influencing drug use problems among youth. In other words, what you do—or do not do—has a big impact on your child’s decisions about using or not using drugs.*

Everyone makes mistakes

Keep in mind, though, that there is no such thing as an ideal family. Every family has problems, and everyone makes mistakes. Young people make mistakes, and parents make mistakes. What’s more important for learning (yours and your children’s) is the way you handle the situations when you do make mistakes. Honestly admitting when you are wrong and making amends can be a powerful way to model the behaviour you want your kids to adopt.

It’s important to stay involved, no matter what the age of your children. Start early and keep at it, even if you get the impression that they aren’t paying any attention to you!

Things parents can influence

There are many things that parents can do to help their children grow and develop in positive ways and avoid abusing drugs. Research in the area of positive youth development reinforces the common-sense idea that if parents, schools and communities really focus efforts on supporting the healthy growth and development of children, we will naturally prevent a range of problems (including substance abuse) in the process. Building on a child’s strengths (or developmental assets*) is a key focus.

FamilyThe following describes some ways that parents can build developmental assets in their children and is adapted from the work of the Search Institute®:

  • provide support to all family members
  • communicate in a positive way with each other
  • be involved in your children’s schooling
  • set boundaries, be a role model and have high expectations for behaviour
  • encourage good use of time; for example, being involved in recreational or creative activities or helping others in the community or at home
  • model a commitment to learning
  • promote positive values, including responsibility and restraint
  • help develop social skills such as planning, decision-making and resistance skills
  • help children develop a sense of personal power and purpose, high self-esteem, and a positive view of their own future

For more information on developmental assets visit: www.Search-Institute.org

To understand how to prevent alcohol and drug abuse, it is also important to understand the connection between risk factors and protective factors. These are concepts well supported by many years of research. Risk factors are life events, experiences or conditions that are associated with an increase in problem behaviour such as drug abuse. Protective factors protect against problem behaviour and include many of the developmental assets described above.

As parents, it is most important to focus your attention on your child’s strengths and protective factors (or developmental assets). At the same time, it is helpful to understand that children experience differing degrees of vulnerability to problems based on risk factors related to their personality, genetics, family upbringing, peer group, school, community, culture and so on. The more risk factors they are up against, the more important is your need to build strong protective influences around your children.

The following charts outline some of the known risk and protective factors for children and youth on a number of different levels: individual factors such as personal resilience, family and peer group factors, the school environment and factors in the broader community.

Risk and protective factors

Risk factors: There is not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship, but these qualities and influences often occur in the lives of young people who use drugs.

Protective factors: These are some of the events, qualities and influences that researchers have found help to prevent drug use among young people.

 

Risk factors

Protective factors

Individual factors
  • having a more difficult temperament, making it harder to form connections with other people
  • struggling with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety
  • having positive expectations of drugs along with easy access
  • beginning to experiment at an early age
  • having an easygoing, positive temperament, sociable, hopeful and able to cope with problems
  • having strong self-esteem and good social skills
  • feeling connected to school, family and supportive adults in the community
  • having negative expectations of drug use
  • delaying use until later years, if at all
Family
  • belonging to a family that struggles with drug abuse or has permissive attitudes about drugs
  • living in a stressful or unsupportive home environment
  • having parents who have unclear rules and expectations, poor supervision and inconsistent discipline and support
  • belonging to a family that discusses and models responsible drug use (e.g., not allowing smoking in the home, drinking responsibly, not using illegal drugs and ensuring that all prescription medication is stored and used appropriately)
  • having parents who strive to build close relationships with their kids and to set clear expectations and consistent discipline
Peers

Having friends who:

  • use drugs and encourage drug use
  • have an excess of time or money and are not engaged in positive social activities
  • break the law

Having friends who:

  • don’t use drugs or encourage drug use
  • are engaged in school and other positive social activities such as sports, music, and art
  • positively influence decision-making
School
  • academic failure
  • negative, disorderly and unsafe school climate
  • low teacher expectations
  • lack of clear school policies on drug use
  • lack of commitment to school
  • withdrawn/aggressive classroom behaviour
  • caring and supportive school environment
  • high expectations
  • clear standards and rules for appropriate behaviour
  • youth participation, involvement and responsibility in school tasks and decisions
Community
  • community norms that promote or permit substance abuse
  • poverty with (often) accompanying high crime rate and alienation
  • high rates of transition/mobility
  • lack of cultural traditions and history
  • caring and supportive community
  • high expectations of youth
  • high level of media literacy in community (to counteract undesirable advertising messages)
  • religious or spiritual-based activities
  • community-sponsored activities

A lot of research has been done in the area of resiliency to try to understand how some young people who struggle against the odds (have many risk factors in their lives) seem to be able to overcome these challenges and develop into healthy, happy adults. This important research has clearly pointed to the critical role that protective factors play in the lives of all young people.

Talk to your child about who has made a big difference in your life and why you admired that person.

Tell stories about family members or friends who have shown real courage, kindness, humour or determination in their lives.

Ask your child to consider who they admire, and talk about the characteristics that make that person special to them.

As a parent, try to think about the kinds of things that you can do to increase the number and quality of protective factors and decrease some of the risks your child may be exposed to.

Drawing on school and community resources

It’s important for parents to be involved and informed. Find ways to reach out to connect with your child, to support them, encourage them and let them know how much they mean to you. Keep yourself in the picture. Doing things together as a family (preparing a meal, discussing a TV show, playing sports together, etc.) gives you a chance to spend time together and to get closer. Finding time for your children is not always easy, but it is always worthwhile.

But young people also look for support and role models among other family members (including older siblings), friends, friends’ parents, neighbours, teachers and other adults in the community such as sports coaches or club leaders. Sometimes media personalities on TV, in the movies or in the music and entertainment world can be role models. These people often have a key role to play in helping to support, mentor and encourage your children in a positive way. The relationships that our children establish with adults outside the home can have a strong protective influence on them later in life.

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