Teenage girl refusing cigar

Refusal strategies that work

Published on: November 21, 2022   |   Last updated on:

You probably vaguely remember those after-school specials with the Teen Beat heartthrobs in sappy, dramatized scripts about peer pressure at school. The victim was always a pushover at first, and the villain played the bully role to a T. 

In all seriousness, there were solid messages delivered through those shoddy productions. One specifically was about what we now call refusal strategies for teenagers to decline harmful substances.

Research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) shows that people who drink before age 15 are 5.6 times more likely to report alcohol use disorder as an adult than those who wait until they are 21 to begin drinking.

In other words, abstinence is critical. 

But, the idea of kids simply saying “no” to peer pressure can be naive to the complex dynamics of acceptance and belonging that every adolescent goes through.

That’s why deliberately teaching them refusal strategies can empower them to make the best choices and avoid harm.

Here are 7 refusal strategies we can teach kids:

  1. Decline confidently: If you’re offered a substance and don’t want to partake, then clearly and confidently say, “Nope!” Chances are, if you’re confident enough, whoever’s offering will be deterred. 
  2. Prepare a story: It’s always helpful to have a pre-planned story to get out of an uncomfortable situation. Whether that means you want to leave or refuse, preparing ahead of time to have a plausible reason will be extra empowering. 
  3. Hit the bricks: The most effective refusal strategy is to literally turn and walk away. No more problem!
  4. Plan B: Similar to having a story prepared, you can plan for bringing up an alternative plan before you get offered something you don’t want. In other words, you can change the subject and redirect the discussion. 
  5. Laugh your way through: Using humor is a wise choice in this situation. Instead of directly refusing, try telling a joke. 
  6. Be a no-show: If you think that by attending an event you will likely be offered drugs or alcohol, then don’t go! 
  7. Buddy pass: The more people who refuse, the stronger you’ll be. Bring a friend who’s on the same page as you, and together you can stand stronger. 

Most kids won’t figure these out on their own, yet they will likely find themselves in harm’s way multiple times throughout adolescence. That’s why they need you to share these strategies with them so they can be ready to face threats that can ruin their life.

They probably won’t come to you and ask you to teach them these skills, which is why you need to take the initiative with them. Sure, they might cringe, roll their eyes or beg you to change the subject, but at the end of the day, who cares? Their protection is worth being called a nag. 


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