Dr. Kevin Haggerty, MSW, Ph.D., is an international trainer and speaker in the areas of substance abuse and delinquency prevention, NIH-funded researcher and director of the Social Development Research Group, University of Washington, School of Social Work. He specializes in prevention programs at the community, school and family level and is also the Principal Investigator of the NIDA funded Family Connections study, testing the Parents Who Care program, and the Focus on Families study. His focus, for more than 30 years, has been on developing innovative ways to organize the scientific knowledge base for prevention so that parents, communities and schools
What can parents do to help kids feel connected?
Haggerty: We have an approach we call the social development strategy to help young people connect to important positive influences in their life. The strategy has five key elements: First, people need to have opportunities for meaningful involvement. Second, they need to find their passion, get connected, and be involved in something that’s meaningful to them. During adolescence, it’s important to help young people unlock their passion. Third, we need to help them develop and sharpen their skills to be successful in that passion. The fourth element is rewards or celebration resulting from that involvement.
When kids have opportunities, skills, and recognition, it leads to bonding and connecting—and that leads to the fifth element of the social development strategy—motivation to follow shared beliefs and standards for behavior. Parents all across America are looking for ways to help their kids connect and unlock their passion. We think the social development strategy can help by ensuring young people have ample opportunities to find where they fit and where they belong, and helping them to be skillfully involved in those opportunities.
How can parents help their child find that passion?
Haggerty: Starting early, introducing small steps for trying new things, being a model of doing new things, and doing new things with your child or adolescent can be helpful. Find people they like and want to do things with. Demonstrate that there are a lot of different opportunities to take advantage of. How we model things as parents is also important. If we come home from work and sit and play video games, that’s the example we are setting.
It’s important to have conversations around what your teen likes to do, especially in middle school. Be clear that there are lots of opportunities in high school, and ask your kids what kinds of things they would like to try.
How do you find effective consequences for teens?
Haggerty: Most of the effective consequences for teens start with a “C.” Cell phone, curfew, chores, cash, clothes, or a car as they get older. Consequences can be both positive—yes, you can use the car—or negative—no, you can’t use the car.
It’s important to understand that different consequences work for different kids. If your teen doesn’t want to drive a car, then the car is not an important consequence. You have to make sure as a parent that you understand what is important to your child, and sometimes that can be difficult. With some kids, it’s really hard to find anything that matters to them, and that’s really tough.
What’s a driving contract and why is it important?
Haggerty: It is important for parents to negotiate a driving contract before allowing their child to drive. Who pays for gas? Who pays for insurance? What hours can they use the car? Who fills up the gas tank? How do you leave the car in shape? All the things you care about in terms of the maintenance and ongoing aspect of the car are really important—that’s one side of it. They don’t just get to use the car without any conditions in place.
The other side is how teens earn the right to use the car. What kind of grades do they need to have? How do they need to help around the house? What are your expectations around substance use? All the requirements for having the right to use the car are important. Our work in this area found significant differences in levels of responsible car use and substance use while driving and riding with someone else when parents and teens had a driving contract.
How do you develop guidelines with your kids?
Haggerty: Be clear with your child about the wishes you have for their future. We should step back for a minute and think about what we want our adult child to be like. What values do I want them to have? How do I want them to live in this life? Then talk with your kids directly and say you have wishes and dreams for them that you want to share.
Some parents have done really cool things, such as writing these things on a poster for their kid’s bedroom, saying these are my wishes and dreams for you. Then they talk about what might prevent their child from accomplishing these things.
Substance use, for example, interferes with being successful at school or having good relationships. If you think of many of the wishes we have for our kids, substance use and heavy substance use can really get in the way of those things.
Sit down and talk about your family policy around substance use. Decide on the policy together and make sure everyone is on the same page regarding what is and is not acceptable based on your family’s background, values, and your family’s risk level.
The conversation was an excerpt from the Q&A of National Institutes of Health (NIH) with Dr. Haggerty
You can watch him speak on his experiences and work at the Youth and Family Summit: