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Teens and the Self-Esteem Shield

It's a powerful weapon in the war against teenage drug and alcohol abuse and it doesn't cost parents a penny. It's called the "self-esteem shield."

It's simple. Research shows that adolescents who grow up with high self-esteem are far less likely to abuse drugs or drink, compared with children who grow up without much sense of self-worth, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Here are several steps parents can take to help their children develop self-esteem:

  • Remember that the road to self-esteem begins in infancy and is nurtured throughout childhood, preadolescence, and adolescence by interaction with you and your spouse, the environment, and an accumulation of successes along the way.

  • Listen carefully to your teenager when he or she is trying to tell you something--and make it clear that you're very interested. For example: Turn off the TV or put down the newspaper when the child speaks to you, and don't take phone calls during the conversation. Also, be sure to praise the child's efforts to communicate with you, whenever possible.

  • To teach self-respect, you must show respect at all times. Speak to your child with respect--even when upset or angry--and never give in to the temptation to shout or demean.

  • Focus on the positive. Praise the child's behavior when appropriate, but don't exaggerate. For children and especially adolescents, express confidence in their ability.

  • Enjoy your teenager while you can. Tap into his or her humor, energy and creative sense of possibility. The odds are high that you'll get in touch with your own youthful side - often with delightfully unexpected results.