People used to think that substance abuse in adolescents and teenagers was a direct result of bad parenting—that kids who ended up using were not properly supervised, or that their parents used. While some may still believe this, others have realized that no matter what you do, or how strict you are with your children, some will end up using anyway. Why is this? And what can you do to prevent your children from smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, or using drugs? One way to help curb the possibility of children using alcohol or drugs is by getting a pet.
How Can Having a Pet Prevent Kids from Using Drugs or Alcohol?
A common reason parents get a household pet (or even better, a pet that ‘belongs’ solely to a child) is to teach responsibility. But how can getting a pet prevent kids from trying drugs due to things like peer pressure, a desire to rebel, or as an attempt to self-medicate?
Getting a pet for your child can…
- Instill a sense of responsibility in your child.
If a child feels wholly or even partially responsible for another living creature, the consequences of not fulfilling his or her necessary duties are much more imminent than “If you don’t study, you won’t get into college.” Taking care of a pet is something that will teach the child to do ‘the right thing’ instead of what may seem to be ‘the most fun thing’ at the time. For example, a boy may want to hang out with his friends at the park, or some other generally unsupervised area, after school; but if the boy knows that he is responsible for letting the dog out at this time every day, suddenly, hanging out with friends may not seem so appealing if he knows it means he’ll have a mess to clean up later on. These household responsibilities are also a way of relieving boredom.
- Build your child’s sense of self-worth.
Experiencing the appreciation of another living thing can add to a child’s sense of self-worth, which, in turn, decreases the likelihood of a child giving into peer pressure.
- Improve your child’s nurturing abilities.
By caring for a pet, a child learns what is good for the pet and what is not. Just about any family has gone through a scare or two when a pet ingests something it shouldn’t have. This worries most children to the point of tears because they are afraid their pet will be hurt or, worse, die. Their mom or dad may have told them a thousand times before, “dogs can’t have chocolate,” but until they see it with their own eyes, children may still be curious as to what the effects of a dog consuming chocolate would be. Though we would never wish for a scenario like this to happen in any family, an episode like this could curb a child’s curiosity, teaching them that when their parents say “something is bad for you,” they mean it.
- Build a lasting bond between your child and the rest of the family.
Bringing a pet into the family can help children find common ground with their parents and help siblings relate to one another. Usually, caring for a household pet is a team effort. This requires members of the family to work together, dividing responsibilities and coordinating schedules to ensure that the pet is properly cared for. With shared love for another creature and a common goal in mind, having a pet can strengthen family bonds. The strengthening of these bonds can lead to a better understanding between parents and children, potentially alleviating a desire to rebel.
- Give your child a healthy emotional outlet for dealing with stress.
Adolescents often start to use and abuse drugs because they are unsure of how to deal with things like stress, depression, and anxiety. The teenage years can be some of the most difficult times in a person’s life. Even if parents try to make themselves available to their children, kids may still be uncomfortable going to their parents for help because of a fear of being judged or misunderstood. A pet is someone who will always listen without judgment. Kids can cry in front of their pet without being embarrassed. They can also use their pet as a soundboard to work out real-life problems. By providing children with an alternative emotional outlet and problem-solving catalyst, parents can prevent their children from seeking out the relief of some mind-numbing substance, such as drugs or alcohol, as a way of self-medicating.
- Teach kids they can have fun without drugs or alcohol
Spending time with a pet, whether it’s a walk in the park, or playing with a laser pointer in the living room, shows kids they can have fun without drugs or alcohol.
Additional Resources for Parents Trying to Prevent Substance Abuse in Children
Both of the links below provide additional information and explanations as to how pets can assist with child development; by making efforts to further a child’s physical, mental, and social development, parents can create healthier human beings who will find it easier to avoid substance abuse.
For more information about when substance abuse typically starts, parents can visit this website:
In conclusion, having a family pet can teach children empathy and other forms of emotional intelligence that will help them build stronger bonds with those around them, including family members. Stronger bonds will lead to higher levels of trust between a parent and child, creating a higher likelihood of the child actually believing his or her parents when they say something is bad for him or her. Seeing the consequences of failed responsibilities can also mitigate curiosity when it comes to trying things they have been advised not to. Having more responsibilities at home can help get rid of boredom. These responsibilities can also help increase a child’s sense of self-worth by giving them an additional source from which they receive love and appreciation. Lastly, pets can provide a child with endless love, physical comfort, a set of listening ears, and can be considered a problem-solving tool to help children cope with stress, rather than turning to drugs or alcohol.
Why is Monitoring the Potential for Substance Abuse in Children So Important?
The process of becoming addicted to a substance, more often than not, starts in either adolescence or the teenage years. According to a 2011 study conducted by researchers at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 90% of American adults who are now addicted to drugs or alcohol started using well before their 18th birthdays. While 46% of U.S. high school students regularly use drugs or alcohol, 75% of high school students in American have admitted to trying one or more of these substances before. Of the 75% who have experimented with drugs or alcohol, 20% of these children meet the medical criteria for addiction.
Most of us are already familiar with the effects drugs or alcohol can have on adults, such as impaired judgment, lowered inhibitions, depression, anxiety, and other long-term health problems both mental and physical. A human’s brain is not fully developed until age 25 or so-more specifically, the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the “rational” part of the brain that controls a person’s reasoning skills, impulse control, planning skills, and reward system. This is also the exact part of the brain where things are disrupted when people start to use drugs or alcohol regularly. Teenagers already don’t have these skills; putting drugs into their bodies will only serve to impair the development of these brain functions even further.
It is never too early to start taking preventative measures to stop your children from developing a substance abuse problem, or worse, an addiction. In order to stop children from using drugs, we should first become familiar with the reasons young people begin using drugs in the first place.
Why Do Adolescents Start Using Drugs?
- Peer pressure
- Modeling parent behavior
- Ignorance of the damage drugs and alcohol can cause
Of these common reasons why kids begin using drugs, some factors are under the parents’ control, whereas others are not. While some may believe parents can only control the last two (their own behavior as role models and ignorance), getting a pet can help with all of the other reasons, even rebellion.
The article was provided to Pet Guardian Angel of America by Addiction Resource