Young children learn about the world by watching the adults in their lives. Older kids and teens do, too.

Megan Miccio, a school health professional at Denver’s Thomas Jefferson High School, says adults can help the teens in their lives deal with stress — and avoid using harmful substances to cope —  by doing two important things: 1) talking about substance use and 2) modeling healthy coping skills

Here are some ways you can teach healthy behaviors by practicing them yourself:

Put Healthy Habits on Display

Teens see how their parents and guardians manage the many demands of life. But parents have been managing an extra stress load over the last few years, so you may feel like you haven’t been modeling healthy stress relief. That’s understandable — and you’re not alone. Pay attention to small changes you can make over time — and invite your teen to join you. 

If the adults in their lives use substances to cope, teens are more likely to do the same. So remember to demonstrate healthy ways of handling stress, like going on a walk, stretching and breathing exercises, or calling a friend. 

Work is often something that causes stress. Teens hear how you talk about your work day and react to challenges at work. If you work from home, they may have an even closer view of how you interact with co-workers and bosses in online meetings, deal with stressful situations, or manage a busy schedule. If you work outside the house, it’s understandable that your stress might follow you home as well.

Remember to take breaks in your day when you can and find ways healthy ways to unwind after your workday ends. And when the roles are flipped — when you see your teen working hard for several hours — encourage them to take breaks from their work.

Share About Yourself

It might be natural for parents or guardians to shield teens from bad news or to focus on what’s going on in the teens’ world when they talk with them. Megan suggests talking about the tough things in your day, too — what was challenging? What obstacles did you overcome? Talking through your process for handling challenges can lead to conversations about positive behaviors.

Be Available

By establishing boundaries, you can help demonstrate how to manage the different parts of your life that demand your attention and make it easier to have conversations with teens. Find times when you can set your phone aside to limit interruptions with the teen in your life, and talk about positive activities that you can do together to reduce stress. And when a difficult conversation does come up, practice good listening skills.

Click here to learn how you can support young people to deal with stress - apart from substance use.  

Click here to learn about some of the signs that a teen might be using harmful substances.