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Preventing Drug Abuse Starts at Home

April 10, 2015  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

The most important reason that kids don’t use alcohol or drugs is because of you— their parents. That’s why it’s so important that you build a strong relationship with your kids and talk to them about substance abuse—the earlier the better! As a parent, you have a major impact on your child’s decision not to use drugs, including alcohol, marijuana, and prescription pills.

If you have children in grade school it’s not likely they’ve begun to use alcohol or any other kind of drug. That’s why it’s a good time to start talking about the dangers of drug and alcohol use. Talking to your kids will also support any drug prevention programs being taught in school. Recently, Governor Baker pressed for more education about drugs in the state’s schools starting in lower grades; hopefully funds will be made available to develop appropriate curricula in our schools.

The following guidance is from the American Academy of Pediatrics, KidsHealth, and the National Crime Prevention Council.

There is no guarantee that your child won’t use drugs, but drug use is much less likely to happen if you:

  • Provide guidance and clear rules.
  • Spend time with your child.
  • Do not use tobacco or other drugs yourself and, if you do drink, do so in moderation, and never drive after drinking.
  • Help your child make good choices and good friends.
  • Teach your child different ways to say “No!”

Actions speak louder than words. What messages do your actions and words send to your children? Kids notice how their parents use alcohol, tobacco, and drugs at home, in their social life, and in other relationships. This includes how you deal with strong feelings, emotions, stress, and even minor aches and pains.

Prevention Starts When You Start Talking—and Listening

If your kids don't feel comfortable talking to you, they'll seek answers elsewhere, even if those sources are not reliable. And kids who are not properly informed are at greater risk of engaging in unsafe behaviors and experimenting with drugs.

If you are educated about the effects of drug and alcohol use and learn the facts you can give your kids correct information and clear up any misconceptions. You're the most important role model for your kids, and your views on underage drinking and drugs can strongly influence how they think about them. Talk openly and honestly with your kids about healthy choices and risky behaviors.

Learn the facts about the harmful effects of drugs and underage drinking. Talk with your children about the negative effects alcohol and drugs could have on their brains and bodies and their ability to learn or play sports. Review this website to get the information you need to share with your kids.

Be clear and consistent about family rules. It does not matter what other families decide; your family rules show your family values.

Correct any wrong beliefs your child may have such as everybody drinks or marijuana won’t hurt you.

Take advantage of "teachable moments.” If you see a character in a movie or TV show using alcohol, talk about underage drinking and what alcohol does to a child’s body. This can lead into a discussion about other drugs and how they could cause harm. Keep the tone of these discussions calm and, depending on their age, use terms that your son or daughter can understand. Be specific about the effects of drugs: how they make a person feel, the risk of overdose, and the other long-term damage they can cause.

Making Smart Choices

It’s your job as a parent to use love and experience to correct your child’s mistakes and poor choices. By using a mix of praise and constructive criticism, you can correct your child’s behavior. This helps your child build self-confidence and learn how to make healthy and safe choices. In time, making smart choices on their own will become easier. A good sense of self-worth and knowing what is right and wrong will help your child say “No!” to drugs and other risky behaviors. And, never forget to let your kids know you care about them. 

Encourage Positive Friendships and Interests

Help your child make good choices:

  • Check to see that the friends and neighbors your child spends time with are safe and have values similar to yours regarding drug use and underage drinking.
  • Find ways to get your child involved in sports, hobbies, school clubs, and volunteer activities. These usually are positive interactions that help develop character and lead to good peer relationships.
  • Look for activities that you and your child or the entire family can do together.

Help your child learn the importance of being a responsible individual and what it means to be a real friend. Children need to learn that doing something they know is wrong is not a good way to “fit in” or feel accepted by others.

Remind your child that real friends do not:

  • Ask friends to do risky things like use alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.
  • Reject friends when they don’t want to do something that they know is wrong.

Help Your Child Learn Different Ways To Say “No!”

Teach your child how to respond to someone offering drugs. It is much easier to say “No!” when prepared ahead of time. It helps if you role play and practice. Act out possible scenarios they may encounter. This way, it becomes natural to do at least one of the following:

  • Firmly say, “No!”
  • Give a reason—“No thanks, I’m not into that.” or “No, my parents would get really mad at me.”
  • Suggest something else to do, like watch a movie or play a game.
  • Leave—go home, go to class, go join other friends.

Laying Good Groundwork

No one in our community is immune to the effects of drugs. Any one of our kids can end up in trouble, even when they have been given appropriate guidance from their parents.

However, certain groups of kids may be more likely to use drugs and drink alcohol than others:

  • Kids who have friends who use drugs are more likely to try drugs themselves. 
  • Kids feeling socially isolated for whatever reason may turn to alcohol or drugs. 
  • Kids who live in a home environment where parents, sibs, and other relatives are having problems with alcohol and drugs are especially at risk.

Ideally, a loving and open family environment — where kids can talk about their feelings, where their achievements are praised, and where their self-esteem is boosted — encourages kids to come forward with their questions and concerns. When censored in their own homes, kids go elsewhere to find support and answers to their most important questions.

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