Creating a family contract is one way to help your kids abstain from using alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. It is a tool for expressing values and outlining expectations and consequences.
Reasons for developing a family contract
- It provides an incentive to avoid illegal substances.
- It provides incentives for youth that are participating in school athletics or extracurricular activities which mandates a signed alcohol and drug free contract.
- It provides an opportunity to discuss your beliefs about illegal substance use.
- If trust has been broken by prior substance use, this contract can provide a fresh step for both of you.
Why are family contracts effective?
- Teenagers believe that they have absolute power and control over their world. When they work with you to develop a contract, they generally sign it out of a sincere belief that they are in control of their substance use.
- A formal contract helps to clearly define your mutual expectations for abstinence from illegal substances and outlines consequences for substance use.
- Once the contract is initiated, any substance use brings your child into violation of the contract and into conflict with their choices to not use an illegal substance.
- If they are able to refrain from substance use, the contract has worked.
- If they are unable to refrain from substance use, the contract works by revealing their denial about substance abuse.
Remember: The #1 reason kids choose to refrain from illegal substance use is because they don’t want to disappoint their parents
Guidelines for creating a family contract
- Your family contract will be most effective if you write it together.
- Keep your contract simple. Consider including the following elements:
- Date of agreement
- Clear expectations of the child abstaining from all illegal substances
- Clear consequences for violating the contract
- Signatures of all parties agreeing to the contract
- Follow through with the consequences of the contract.
- Keep a business like approach to the contracting process.
Developing a family contract
BEFORE beginning the contract process with your child:
- List all possible consequences if your child violates the contract.
- List all the reasons you should follow through with consequences.
- List the reasons your child would give for not wanting to agree to abstain from illegal substance use or refusing to sign the contract. Determine what you will do if your child refuses to sign a contract agreeing to be substance free.
- Make an appointment to meet with your child in a place free of distractions (e.g., TV, phone, friends, siblings, etc.). Allow one hour. As you are creating the contract:
- Clearly outline your position on the use of illegal substances and share your concerns with your child.
- Tell your child that you will always give him/her a safe, calm ride home with no discussion or questions until the following day.
- Ask your child to name other caring adults in his/her life that he/she believe would help him/her if asked.
- DISENGAGE! Don’t bring up other issues.
The goal of the contract is not to make your child feel trapped, but rather to let him/her make choices, knowing what the consequences will be if he/she chooses to use illegal substances. Make one copy of the contract for you and one for your child. You must sign both copies. Give your child one copy at the end of your meeting. Once the contract has been signed, the meeting is over. Back off and let the contract take effect.
Family contract follow-up and enforcement
- Do not lecture about the contract. Constant references to the contract will build anger and resentment in your child.
- Monitor your child’s behavior and activities.
- If your intuition tells you something is wrong, it probably is. There is no need to wait for proof. Trust your instincts. Act now!
- Enforce the contract. If your child violates the contract, enforce the consequences immediately!
- Do not allow your child to renegotiate the terms after the contract has been violated.
- Use escalated consequences. Start with one of the least severe consequences and increase severity if necessary.
- If the contract is violated and a consequence has been instituted, then negotiate a new contract with a more severe consequence.
Consequences for violating the contract
There are different levels of consequences. Choose the consequences that are meaningful to your child and are in line with their actions. Some sample consequences could include:
- Lose driving privileges, cell phone, TV, iPod, video games, computer, etc.
- Earlier curfew time.
- Grounded from going out with friends or having friends visit.
- Participate in a Chemical Dependency Evaluation (Rule 25 Assessment), drug education program, random drug testing, and/or chemical dependency treatment program.
- Resign from extra-curricular activities.
- Parent turning child into school or law enforcement.
To view a sample of a Family Contract, click here.