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Adolescents with too much unstructured and unsupervised free time get into more trouble than teens engaged in more constructive pursuits.1

So replace hanging-out time with more worthwhile activities and with this simple move protect your son or daughter from the risks of drug and alcohol use and abuse.

Of course no single parenting action safeguards against teen drug use, but encouraging constructive use of time should be one key component of your comprehensive prevention strategy.

OK, but if they’re not just hanging out…what will they be doing!??

Here are some ideas for getting started.

Enforcing Constructive Time

For almost 30 years, the social science research group The Search Institute has championed the use of 'developmental assets' as an effective way to improve a young person’s odds of health and happiness into adulthood.2

  • Developmental assets are simple interventions that are research-proven to help young people succeed.

You can incorporate some of these developmental assets into your child’s routine by taking a look at his or her use of time, and encouraging constructive behaviors at the expense of non-productive and potentially harmful activities…for example, like just hanging out at the mall.

Encourage Creative Activities

Encourage your child to spend 3 or more hours per week engaged in some form of creative activity, for example:

  • Music
  • Dance
  • Drama
  • Writing/poetry
  • Crafting
  • Gardening/landscaping
  • Home woodworking
  • Many more!

It doesn’t take much - at minimum, for example, it’s just an hour of guitar lessons a week and 20 minutes a day of practice – or one afternoon a week with a local theater group.

Encourage Group Extracurricular Activities

Encourage at least 3 hours a week spent in after-school, evening or weekend extracurricular group activities, for example:

  • On sports teams
  • With scouts or other similar youth organizations
  • A part-time job
  • A volunteer position

Encourage Spiritual Activities

Encourage at least 1 hour a week engaged in some sort of personally relevant spiritual or religious activity, for example:

  • Attending church or participating in church youth-group activities
  • Meditation practice

Encourage Quality Time at Home

Limit unstructured time with friends to 2 evenings per week (this doesn’t mean that he or she has to be home the other 5 nights a week, but at least 5 nights should center around constructive activities.)

Make family time quality time by:

  • Limiting the amount of time your children – and you – spend glued to TV, tablet or computer screens while at home together.
  • Make shared family meals – where you all sit and eat together without distractions – a priority.
  • Engage in whole-family activities whenever possible, such as family walks or games.

Encourage Homework Time

Your son or daughter should spend at least an hour a day outside of school engaged in homework.

Encourage Reading for Pleasure

Encourage your son or daughter to read for pleasure at least 3 hours per week. If your child is not currently an enthusiastic reader, you can help stimulate their interest with family trips to the library or book-shops.

Encourage Service Time

Encourage your son or daughter to spend at least 1 hour per week engaged in the altruistic service of others.

For example:

  • Help an elderly neighbor with yard-work.
  • Volunteer on the school-dance committee.
  • Get involved with a community organization.

Expect to face some resistance as you carve away free-time for more productive pursuits – after all, teens like to hang out and they tend to enjoy the company of friends over mom and dad!

So be understanding, don’t take rejection personally and don’t change everything overnight. Talk about what you want to accomplish, explain your motivations and negotiate gradual changes that everyone can live with.

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Page last updated Aug 30, 2013

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