3 Coping Skills Parents Can Teach Teens to Prevent Substance Abuse?


During their teenage years, kids can push boundaries as they develop into adults. As teens move towards independence, it’s important for parents and caregivers to encourage children to explore and expand their experiences safely. At this time in life, their brain is wired for risky behavior and that must be safely channeled.  Sometimes, teens turn to drugs during this exploratory period to party with peers or to cope with difficult life stressors. Learning healthy coping skills early can help teens avoid experimentation with drugs and alcohol.


Addiction is a maladaptive coping mechanism

According to the DEA, teens may use substances like drugs and alcohol in order to:

  • Relieve boredom & anxiety;
  • Self-treat symptoms of trauma & depression;
  • Ease stress from adults or peers;
  • Numb low self-esteem or emotional pain;
  • Feel “grown-up” and included;
  • Satisfy curiosity & push limits.

The stress encountered in today’s world offers opportunities for parents to model healthy ways to manage stress.  For teens substance use is often a response to chronic stress. Exploring natural stress relief methods together with your teen can be mutually beneficial.


Harmful Versus Healthy Coping Skills

Later on in this article, we’ll give you three actionable strategies to help kids cope with difficult emotions. But first, we need to distinguish between healthy coping skills and harmful, or maladaptive coping skills.


Harmful Coping Skills

 Harmful coping skills provide momentary relief, but they cause long-term consequences when used excessively. In addition to illicit drug use, some examples of harmful coping skills are:

  • Overeating or restrictive eating
  • Social withdrawal
  • Procrastination
  • Self-harm
  • Aggression


Helpful Coping Skills

 Helpful coping skills help us deal with stress in a productive or proactive way. There are hundreds of coping skills, but our top five favorites are linked to additional resources if you’re interested in exploring further.


Experiment with various coping methods with your teen and compare notes on the effectiveness of each. To get started, and for fun try this 5 minute seated ‘EFT exercise’.


Top Three Tips To Teach Your Teen Healthy Coping


  1. Model healthy coping

 Parents’ behaviors play a huge role in children’s psychological development. Be the change you want to see in your teenager by modeling healthy coping mechanisms. If you like to sew to relieve stress, sew! If talking to a supportive friend calms you down, do that. Your child will naturally learn by example, but you can also invite them to share in mutually beneficial coping activities.


  1. Make a plan

 As teenagers mature, they should learn to self-soothe. Similar to how small children learn to sleep alone at night, teenagers also have to take that step towards self-soothing. Even the most responsible and independent teen still needs a little support, however. Encourage your teen to take initiative with a coping skills toolbox. By empowering teens with strategies such as reframing and positive affirmations, you’re giving them the skills they need to survive. That way, when mom, dad, grandma, or grandpa isn’t there, your teen will still know what to do.


  1.  Go to the professionals

Seeking professional help is the responsible thing to do, especially in cases of drugs and alcohol. Addiction isn’t easy to overcome for anyone, and it is even harder for youth with little support. Oftentimes loved ones are too close to people with mental health concerns to offer unbiased support. In this case, working with an outside third-party helps both the addict and their support network. Look for a therapist or counselor who specialized in drug use and addiction. They can help navigate what types of services are appropriate for your teen. Often churches host weekly family support meetings or other organizations like the YMCA may offer similar free meetings. Those attending agree to keep all conversations within meetings confidential.


If you’re looking to support your teenager through recovery, you’re not alone. There are plenty of parents who have gone through this before, and you can too. The good news is there’s help. Start with the 24/7 free National Helpline through SAMHSA.

Reality Tour is an interactive experience parents and their adolescent and teen children need to ‘get on the same page’ to prevent experimentation with drugs and alcohol.  It is also appropriate as a substance abuse prevention intervention for at-risk youth. This evidence-based program can be replicated by any community. In Pennsylvania, where the program started in 2003, it is the most popular parent/child prevention program in the state.  If your community doesn’t have Reality Tour, be like Celeste Palamara a nurse who called the nonprofit CANDLE, Inc. stating, “We need Reality Tour in my community. How do I get it started?” Since that phone call in 2013, thousands of families have attended the Reality Tour in Belle Vernon, PA.




Even if we’re not in your neighborhood yet, we hope you’ll reach out to us with your concerns and comments.

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Norma Norris

Norma Norris, Reality Tour developer and Executive Director of CANDLE, Inc., has been a civic leader throughout the years. Norma and her husband Charles raised their three sons in Butler, PA. In an effort to preserve the integrity of her community when heroin first appeared in early 2000, Norma created the parent/child drug prevention program called Reality Tour.

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