By Christy Smith
I remember my parents saying to me “Don’t Do Drugs.” I remember signing a “Just Say No” card in high school. These slogans and words never helped me understand why I should not try drugs. I did not know in my teenage years that the brain does not quit growing until around 25 years of age, or that drugs harm the body and brain. I did not educate myself about addiction until I became a prevention specialist.
Being a tween and teenager is harder today than it was 25 years ago. Social media is constantly at their fingertips. Advertisements, music, and TV make alcohol and drug use look cool. Youth deal with peer pressure and bullying online, at school, and in other social settings differently than my generation. Today, youth experience more stress/depression/anxiety because of these factors.
I am not blaming the Internet for every youth substance abuse problem. Peers, family, and genetics plays a role in the overall health of our youth also. As a certified prevention specialist, I look at factors that contribute to substance abuse – Mental health, social environment, lifestyle, family genetics and dynamics.
So how do parents communicate effectively with their child about substance abuse and misuse?
1: Listen to your child when they express their feelings and concerns on any subject. Parents who are open to conversation will enable youth to trust their parent and be more open to talk. DO NOT say: I do not want to hear about your issues.
2: Role play on how to say “No.” Example. “Suppose you and your friends are at Andy’s house after school and they find some beer in the refrigerator and ask you to join them in drinking it. The rule in our family is that children are not allowed to drink alcohol. So what could you say?” If your child comes up with a good response, praise him. If he doesn’t, offer a few suggestions like, “No, thanks. Let’s play with Sony PlayStation instead,” or “No, thanks. I don’t drink beer. I need to keep in shape for basketball.”
3: Encourage choice. Allow your child plenty of opportunity to become a confident decision-maker. A 12-year-old can choose whether she/he wants to go out for chorus or join the school band. As your child becomes more skilled at making all kinds of good choices, both you and she/he will feel more secure in her/his ability to make the right decision concerning alcohol and drugs if and when the time arrives.
4: Provide age-appropriate information. Make sure the information that you offer fits the child’s age and stage. If you are watching TV with your 8-year-old and marijuana is mentioned on a program, you can say, “Do you know what marijuana is? It’s a bad drug that can hurt your body.” If your child has more questions, answer them. If not, let it go. Short, simple comments said and repeated often enough will get the message across.
5: Establish a clear family position on drugs. It’s okay to say, “We don’t allow any drug use in this family and children are not allowed to drink alcohol. The only time that you can take any drugs is when the doctor or mom or dad gives you medicine when you’re sick. We made this rule because we love you very much and we know that drugs can hurt your body and make you very sick; some may even kill you. Do you have any questions?”
6: Be a good example. Children are a lot like their parents. They may follow the same activity that a parent participates in. Try not to reach for a beer the minute you come home after a tough day; it sends the message that drinking is the best way to unwind. Try not to take pills, even over-the-counter remedies, in front of a child. Your behavior needs to reflect your beliefs.
7: Discuss what makes a good friend. Since peer pressure is so important when it comes to kids’ involvement with drugs and alcohol, it makes good sense to talk with your children about what makes a good friend. An 11-12-year-old can understand that a friend is someone who shares their values and experiences, respects their decisions, and listens to their feelings. Encourage your child to share and cooperate or get involved in fun, healthy activities (such as team sports or scouting). This will help your children make and maintain good friendships as they mature and increase the chance that they’ll remain drug-free.
8: Build self-esteem. Kids who feel good about themselves are less likely than other kids to turn to illegal substances to get high. As parents, we can do many things to enhance our children’s self-image:
• Offer lots of praise for any job well done. If you need to criticize your child, talk about the action, not the person. If your son gets a math problem wrong, it’s better to say, “I think you added wrong. Let’s try again.”
• Assign do-able chores. A 6-year-old can bring her plate over to the sink after dinner; a 12-year-old can feed and walk the dog after school. Performing such duties and being praised for them helps your child feel good about himself.
• Spend one-on-one time with your youngster. Setting aside at least 15 uninterrupted minutes per child per day to talk, play a game, or take a walk together, lets her know you care.
• Say, “I love you.” Nothing will make your child feel better.
Repeat the message. Information and lessons about drugs are important enough to repeat frequently. So be sure to answer your children’s questions as often as they ask them to initiate conversation whenever the opportunity arises.
If you suspect a problem, seek help. While children under age 12 rarely develop a substance problem, it can—and does—happen. If your child becomes withdrawn, loses weight, starts doing poorly in school, turns extremely moody, has glassy eyes—or if the drugs in your medicine cabinet seem to be disappearing too quickly—talk with your child and reach out to the Unicoi County Prevention Coalition. You’ll be helping your youngster to a healthier, happier future.
The Unicoi County Prevention Coalition has TALK ABOUT IT guides for parents at the office. The guide is for parents who have children from preschool to age 25. Please feel free to stop by the office Monday-Thursday. Check us out on Facebook. Your child is never too young or too old to talk about substance abuse. Next month we will talk about the CLD program in the community. Until next time, stay safe and healthy.