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Raising Drug-free Kids

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Raising Drug-free Kids

What is the biggest deterrent to your kids using drugs and alcohol? You.

You are a powerful influence in your child's daily life. Talking to your kids, being available to your kids, and knowing what goes on in their lives are essential to helping your kids make good decisions—in all areas of their lives. Specifically, kids who learn from their parents or caregivers about the risks of drugs are less likely to use drugs and alcohol. Here are some tips for raising drug-free kids:

Get Involved

Kids who feel close and connected with their parents are least likely to engage in risky behaviors. The more involved you are in your children's lives, the more valued they'll feel. They will also be more likely to share their thoughts with you. Here are some ways to be involved:

  • Have family meals as often as you can. Meals are a great opportunity to talk about the day's events, to unwind, and bond. Be sure to turn the TV off!. Studies show that kids whose families eat together at least five times a week are less likely to be involved with drugs or alcohol.
  • Establish a regular weekly routine for doing something with your child that both of you will enjoy—a bike ride, going out for ice cream, doing the Sunday crossword puzzle, a hike, a movie, etc. If you have more than one child, spend some time with each of them separately.
  • Get to know your kid's friends—and their parents—so you're familiar with their activities.
  • Ask where your kids are going, who they'll be with, and what they'll be doing.
  • If your child is going to a party, call the parent to be sure they will be home and that the party will be alcohol-free.
  • Try to be there after school when your child gets home. The "danger zone" for drug use is between 3 and 6 pm, when no one's around. If you can't be there, make other arrangements for your children so they will have adult supervision; for example, an after-school program or going to the house of a friend, relative, or neighbor.
  • If you can't be home with your kids, leave them notes and call them so that they still feel connected to you.
  • Make it easy to leave a party where drugs are being used. Discuss in advance how you or another designated adult will come to pick your child up the moment he or she feels uncomfortable. Later, be prepared to talk about what happened.

Talk Often With Your Kids

Sometimes it's tough to get kids to talk to you, but it's worth the effort. Talk about fun stuff—school, friends, sports, music, clothes, TV shows, whatever your kids are interested in—as well as more serious issues. The more you communicate, the more at ease your child will be with discussing drugs and other sensitive issues. If your kids don't respond to your communication at first, don't give up. Keep trying. Even if they don't have deep conversations with you, at least they'll know that they can. And at some point, they will.

Here are some communication tips:

  • Talk to your kids everyday.
  • Listen as well as talk; and really listen.
  • Ask questions and encourage your children to ask questions.
  • Make sure kids know they can ask you anything and they'll get an honest answer.
  • Always be honest with your kids.
  • Ask for their input about family decisions. Show that you value their opinions.
  • Be absolutely clear with your kids that you don't want them using drugs. Don't leave room for interpretation.
  • If asked whether you've ever taken drugs, be honest. If you have, explain that it was a mistake and you want them to avoid your mistakes.
  • Talk early and often about the dangers and results of drug and alcohol abuse. Once or twice a year won't do it.
  • Use TV reports, anti-drug commercials, news, or school discussions about drugs to help you introduce the subject in a natural way.
  • Don't react in a way that will cut off further discussion. If your child makes statements that challenge or shock you, turn them into a calm discussion. Ask why he or she thinks people use drugs, or whether the effect is worth the risk.

Be a Role Model

Be a role model—the person you want your kid to be. This is the strongest anti-drug message there is. Be a living, day-to-day example of your value system. Show the compassion, honesty, generosity, and openness you want your child to have.

Know that there is no such thing as "do as I say, not as I do" when it comes to drugs. If you take drugs or have a problem with alcohol, seek professional help. Also, look at your behaviors regarding alcohol and drugs; for example, if you laugh when someone in a movie is drunk or stoned, you may be sending a message that drinking and using drugs is funny and not the serious matter that it is.

Provide Guidance and Structure

Although kids are often clamoring for independence, they still crave structure and guidance. They want you to show them you care enough to set limits. Consider the following tips:

  • Set clear rules and consequences of breaking them. For example, set a curfew and enforce it consistently (you may want to allow negotiations for special occasions).
  • Be sure your rules and consequences are reasonable. You don't need a lot of them, but those you have need to be enforced consistently.
  • Make your expectations clear. Don't make empty threats or let the rule-breaker off the hook. Don't impose harsh or unexpected new punishments.
  • Have kids check in at regular times. Give them a phone card, money, or even a pager, with clear rules for using it. (Remember, pagers are not allowed in some schools.)
  • Listen to your instincts. Don't be afraid to intervene if your gut reaction tells you that something is wrong.
  • Help your kids develop ways to get out of drug- or alcohol-related situations, and practice with them. Acknowledge how tough these moments can be. Let them know they can use the excuse "My mom or dad would kill me if I drink that beer!"

Praise and Reward

Kids are very encouraged by their parents' approval and praise. Reward good behavior consistently and immediately. Expressions of love, appreciation, and thanks go a long way. Even kids who think themselves too old for hugs will appreciate a pat on the back or a special treat. Remember to:

  • Be your kids' greatest fan. Compliment them on their efforts, strength of their character, and their individuality.
  • Accentuate the positive.
  • Emphasize the things your kid does right.
  • Restrain the urge to be critical. Find gentle ways to express less-positive thoughts.

Affection and respect—making your child feel good about him or herself—will reinforce good (and change bad) behavior far more successfully than embarrassment or uneasiness.


Partnership for a Drug-Free America

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

National Institute on Drug Abuse


23 tips to keep in mind and put to use. Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
Available at: http://www.drugfreeamerica.org/Templates/
Accessed September 17, 2003.

Last reviewed September 2003 by ]]>Richard Glickman-Simon, MD]]>

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.



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