A Solid Hint from Icelandic Teens

I recently read a couple of articles about the outstanding work Iceland has done to reduce teen drug abuse. They have produced amazing results in response to an entrenched problem seen throughout the western world. Specifically, Iceland has implemented holistic programs contributing to a dramatic reduction in alcohol abuse, marijuana usage, and cigarette smoking.  As a result, “Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens!” The statistics reveal the “clean-living teens.” The percentage of 15- and 16-year olds who have been drunk in the last month plummeted from 42% in 1998 to only 5% in 2016. During the same time period, marijuana use among 15- and 16-year-olds was down from 17% to 7% and cigarette smoking among the same age group fell from 23% to 3% (Read How Iceland Got Teens to Say No to Drugs).  Although Iceland’s program incorporated a comprehensive family and community-based, government-supported model, the principle underlying the whole “shebang” includes principles simple enough to implement in your family. The principle: increase factors that protect your child while decreasing factors that put your child at risk. There are many risk factors in our communities today.  Risk factors include things that place your child at risk—things like a lack of a secure relationships at home, harsh parenting, high parental conflict, negative peer pressure, and many more.  There are also many protective factors. But, what I find amazing, the beautiful part of protective/risk factors, is that a few key protective factors help overcome many risk factors. Let me share four key protective factors that can “cover a multitude of risks.”

  • A secure parent-child relationship in which the parent is warm, responsive, and supportive. This is fairly self-explanatory. We protect our children from involvement in risky behaviors like drug use when we develop a warm, supportive relationship. How can we develop a warm, supportive relationship with our children? Keep the lines of communication open. Enjoy time together. Laugh together. Make family meal times a regular occurrence (daily if possible but at least 3-5 times a week). Develop a bedtime routine that includes time to talk. Ask about their friends, school, and activities. Go to watch them in their activities. Remain available to talk about hurts, fears, and successes. Celebrate milestones. All these things will help you develop a warm, supportive relationship with your children.
  • Participation in positive community activities. Children need activities. We do not need to force them into activities they do not enjoy; but we can help them find the activities they will enjoy. Based on your warm, supportive relationship (see previous bullet) you will have some idea about what your children enjoy. If not, you will have a relationship that allows you to discuss this with your children and explore. Encourage your children to get involved in some positive supervised activity. This may be sports, music, theatre, recreation, art, dance, church, the list goes on. Help your children find the activity they will enjoy.
  • The support of at least one supportive adult outside the home. Sometimes our children are hesitant to approach us with a problem. In those instances another like-minded adult can prove extremely beneficial. As you involve your children in positive community activities, you can help them find that supportive person and allow their relationship with that person to blossom. This supportive person might be a teacher, a coach, an uncle or grandparent, a minister, or even an older sibling. Encourage your children to form relationships with adults you know and trust in the community.
  • A stable relationship between parents. Children flourish when their parents get along. If you want to protect your children, nurture your relationship with their other parent. Learn to work together. Do not bad mouth the other parent. Cooperate with one another. Work together in regards to limits and discipline as well as celebrations. Resolve arguments and let your children witness your affection for one another (within reason of course). This will increase your children’s security and decrease the chances they will get involved in “risky behaviors.”

When you provide your children with these four protective factors you have reduced the possibility of their involvement in negative behaviors. And, you will enjoy an amazing relationship with your children.

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