Help Them Handle Stress
From worrying about tests and team tryouts to stressing about oil spills, kids are under a lot of pressure these days. "The things we worry about as parents -- the sex, drugs, drinking, and violence -- are often reactions to stress," says Dr. Ginsburg. "So you want to raise your child to have a wide repertoire of healthy coping skills." One way to do that: Model them. If you drink and smoke when you're stressed, your child will think that's acceptable and copy your behavior as he gets older. Kids who have sex too early also tend to come from homes where the parents drink and smoke, according to the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada.
Keep Them Busy (Just Not too Busy)
Another stress buster: getting kids involved in an after-school activity they love, whether it's an art class or a spot on the soccer team. Studies show that kids who are involved in extracurricular activities are less likely to use drugs; and there's evidence that kids who do sports are less likely to smoke or drink -- and, in the case of girls, less likely to get pregnant. "Any extracurricular activity usually has a caring adult to supervise, but sports also has the team aspect-kids who can act as good role models for one another," says Megan Bartlett, director of research for Up 2 Us, a nonprofit that encourages kids' participation in sports. Plus, belonging to a team (or any activity, for that matter) can help boost a kid's self-confidence as he masters a new skill.
Natalie Mines of East Hills, NY, also credits sports for getting her oldest son, Alex, 13, in healthier shape. "I've read that it's the kids who have tons of free time who tend to get into trouble," she says. Alex, who did track, cross-country, volleyball, and baseball last year, started eating better and staying away from junk food and fast food "with no prodding from me," says Mines, a mom of two boys.