To shape responsible behavior in youth, parents are the most important role models |

To shape responsible behavior in youth, parents are the most important role models

When parents model healthy behaviors, children are less likely to make poor choices about drugs and alcohol

By Lauren Glendenning
For the Summit Daily

Editor’s Note: Sponsored content brought to you by the Healthy Futures Initiative.

Schedule time to do healthy things together as a family such as cooking dinner, skiing or other activities. Research shows that teens who are involved in extracurricular activities are less likely to consume alcohol or drugs.
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Here are some tips for talking to your children about marijuana:
  1. Set rules — youth with clear family rules are two times less likely to use marijuana.
  2. Be a good listener — don’t talk over or down to your child.
  3. Focus on the good — help young people make decisions that help them reach their goals.
  4. Learn more — use resources such as and Speak Now Colorado to educate yourself.
  5. Remind youth that most of their peers choose not to use. (Only one in five high school students in Colorado uses marijuana.)
  6. Tell them your opinions about youth marijuana use.
  7. Keep the conversation going. Your child’s friends, interests and activities are always changing. Communicate with them often about how marijuana can impact their life.


As a parent in Summit County, do you talk to your children about drugs and alcohol? Do you know if they’re prepared to handle difficult situations? Are you modeling healthy behaviors for your children at home?

Since the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2014, marijuana use has become more front and center locally.

“We see it being used and can often smell it as well, and I believe the more exposure the youth get to marijuana, the more likely they are to use it themselves,” said Tim Gallagher, a senior at Summit High School who is also part of the Youth Empowerment Society of Summit (YESS), a group of high school students that spreads awareness about social issues and advocates for youth.

The important work that YESS does is just one piece of the puzzle that lead youth to make healthy, responsible choices, but the most important work occurs at home.

Be a role model

What young people see in their home environment is extremely influential in shaping their perception of alcohol and drug use, said Sarah E. Vaine, assistant county manager for Summit County Government. Before her role with the county, Vaine spent 20 years working with adolescents and families as a therapist in private practice and as CEO of the Summit Community Care Clinic.

If and when parents use marijuana or alcohol, you should be modeling appropriate — and legal — behavior.

“What young people see in their home environment is going to most significantly shape their perception of alcohol and drug use,” Vaine said.

Build trust by being honest and transparent

If you make a mistake as a parent, use that as a teaching opportunity and as a way to build trust with youth.

“Let’s say you go to a party with your kids and you drink too much. You can say to your children the next day, ‘Man, I had too many glasses of wine and I feel crummy. I hope I didn’t upset you,’” Vaine said. “Be credible. Admit that it was a poor choice and talk about it with your children. Ask them if they have questions about it.”

Parents have a powerful influence on their kids’ life choices. By having clear family values and being a good role model, youth are better equipped to handle difficult situations and make responsible choices.

Elizabeth Edgar, Summit School District’s mental and physical health coordinator, said it’s essential for parents to not only set clear household guidelines regarding substance use, but it’s also important to practice what you preach.

“Think about what you are exposing your children to if you’re partaking,” she said.

Find healthy alternatives to substances

Substance use is a tempting way to “cut loose” after a stressful day or week. Speak Now Colorado, the state Office of Behavioral Health’s website designed to help parents have important conversations with their children, recommends finding healthy alternatives like practicing a sport, doing yoga, walking or other exercise as ways to let some steam out.

“Explain that alcohol and drugs often leave people feeling worse and don’t truly relieve stress,” according to the site.

Encourage extracurricular activities

Research shows that teens who are involved in extracurricular activities are less likely to consume alcohol or drugs. Encourage your children to get involved in extracurricular activities that fit with their interests: volunteer at the animal shelter, play a sport, join a club, take art classes or music lessons.

Speak Now Colorado recommends taking an interest in your kids’ interests.

“Stay involved by asking open questions that address a variety of topics. Ask them about the music they listen to, the kinds of shows they like to watch on TV, what they like to do with their friends and on the weekends,” according to Speak Now Colorado. “Your children might be looking to be more independent, but they still need you and the support family provides. Plan family and game nights. Go out to the park or plan an activity during the weekend. Show them that family can also be a place where they can have fun and feel safe.”

Practice healthy behaviors together as a family

Schedule time to do healthy things together as a family such as cooking dinner, skiing, attending a sibling’s soccer game, seeing a movie, going for a bike ride or shooting hoops at the recreation center.

These are also great opportunities to have natural conversations about drugs and alcohol, without the pressure of a lecture. “Family dinners, car rides, and other natural places where conversations happen are great opportunities to talk about these things,” Gallagher said. “Having natural conversations works much better and establishes deeper connections between the parents and their youth. … Let the youth know that the parent is there for them and wants to help them make the right decisions, but let kids be kids and do not control their lives.”

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