How to Keep Teens Away from Alcohol and Drugs

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
January 02, 2020

Iceland has found a way to keep teens away from alcohol and drugs. The Planet Youth program has spread around the world. Here's what it can do for your teen.

Iceland had a big problem: teens were getting drunk more often than in other countries in Europe, and too many reported alcohol-related injuries or accidents.

The nation set out to change the trend, developing a program now called Planet Youth. As of 2017, the program had spread to 36 cities in nations around the world, with Chile launching its program this spring. Iceland’s survey statistics are impressive: the portion of teens who admitted anonymously that they had become drunk in the previous 30 days dropped from 42 percent in 1998 to 7 percent last year.

But as a parent you don’t have to live in Iceland or another Planet Youth community to adopt its wisdom. The most important fact you already know: your child’s friends make the difference. If everybody else at a gathering is smoking, drinking alcohol, or using other drugs, so will your teen. If your daughter’s friends stay away from drugs, she’s not likely to experiment on her own. How can you make sure your teen chooses the right crowd? The keys are after-school activities, family time, and community ties.


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After-school activities. Bored kids experiment with drugs and alcohol. It’s important that teens have ways to expand their experience outside of school. Encouraging your teen to join a sports team or take a job is a good way to discourage drug and alcohol use — especially if the time is mostly supervised by adults. Community and mentorship programs allow teens to bond with adults (other than their parents) who can support and influence them for the better.

Family time. The more time you spend with your child, the less likely she is to use drugs or alcohol. If teens see their parents are supportive, they make better choices about their friends. For example, in 2018, among Icelandic 10th graders who said they almost never spend time with their parents on the weekends, more than 28 percent used vape devices daily, and half had used them in the past month. Among those who almost always hung out with their parents on weekends, daily or monthly vaping was rare, and only 26 percent had ever tried one.

Community. In schools where parents know their teens’ friends — and the parents of those friends — all teens benefit. Especially if you don’t have lots of time to socialize with your teen’s circle, look for schools and towns where other parents do. One big hit in Iceland: parents walked around the neighborhood together on Friday and Saturday evenings. Can you make that happen?

The Icelandic approach included school programs that linked parents together and steered children towards sports and other supervised activities. The official policy encouraged parents to enforce curfews and get to know school authorities, coaches, and supervisors in their teens’ volunteer or paid work. Government representatives came to schools to present the reasons for the strategy and the results of that year’s survey on drug use.

After Iceland put these principles to work — encouraging family time, supervised after-school activities, and community ties — teens become much less likely to get drunk, try cannabis, or adopt cigarettes (or vape). The percentage of teens who reported that they had tried cannabis dropped from 17 percent in 1998 to 6 percent 20 years later. The portion who said they smoked cigarettes every day dropped from 23 to 2 percent.

It’s harder as a parent to do this on your own. Can you persuade your town to adopt the Planet Youth model? You can find the guiding principles and step-by-step guide to implementation here.


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January 02, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O'Dell