Growing Up Drug Free: A Parent's Guide To Prevention
Setting and Enforcing Rules Against the Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs
Getting the Facts
Children and Alcohol
Facts on Tobacco
Talking With and Listening to your Child
Parent Support Groups
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"Silent Epidemic of Abuse" Pervades Sports In America
Lamar Alexander, Secretary of Education
As a parent of school-aged children, I share with all Americans concern about illegal drug and alcohol use and the threat these substances pose to the welfare of our Nation's youths. Recent surveys give us hope that the intensive education efforts of the last few years are paying off. The 1990 survey of high school seniors, for example, showed that these young people are less tolerant of drug use and more knowledgeable about the risks of using drugs. For the first time in many years, fewer than half of them have tried an illicit drug. Many factors contribute to these encouraging trends. As President Bush has reminded us, parents have an especially vital part to play:
Schools, churches, synagogues, community groups, law enforcement--all can help us turn the tide on drug and alcohol abuse. But none can take a parent's place. Drug education must begin at home and in the neighborhood long before the classroom.
The standards of behavior we establish in our families provide our children with the strongest inducements to stay off of drugs. This handbook helps families learn about drugs, including the drugs most children use first--alcohol and tobacco. It gives important information on child development at four key stages of growth and suggests activities to reinforce drug prevention messages in the home.
Growing Up Drug Free is based on the best available information about how children learn and what works to prevent drug abuse. There is nothing difficult about this information, and the only qualification needed to use it is a loving concern for the welfare of our children and families.
Concern for the welfare of children and families underpins every one of the national education goals that form the basis of President Bush's AMERICA 2000 education strategy. One of these goals is that every school in America will be free of drugs and violence and will offer a discipline environment conducive to learning. The AMERICA 2000 strategy recognizes that our schools, our workplaces, and our communities cannot be places where education comes first unless and until they are drug free. Our role as parents is to do our part to help make drug-free schools and communities a reality by the year 2000.
What Parents Can Do
Child rearing is one of the most important tasks anyone ever performs, and the one for which there is the least preparation. Most of us learn how to be parents through on-the-job training and by following the example that our parents set. Today the widespread use of alcohol and other drugs subjects our children, families, and communities to pressures unheard of 30 or 40 years ago. Frankly, many of us need help to deal with this frightening threat to our children's health and well-being. Recent surveys show that we are making progress in our national battle against some drugs. Casual use is declining, attitudes are changing, and we know more about what works to prevent drug use by our young people.
As parents, we can build on that progress in our own families by having strong, loving relationships with our children, by teaching standards of right and wrong, by setting and enforcing rules for behavior, by knowing the facts about alcohol and other drugs, and by really listening to our children.
Every family has expectations of behavior that are determined by principles and standards. These add up to "values." Children who decide not to use alcohol or other drugs often make this decision because they have strong convictions against the use of these substances-convictions that are based in a value system. Social, family, and religious values give young people reasons to say no and help them stick to their decisions.
Here are some ways to help make your family's values clear:
As parents, we are responsible for setting rules for our children to follow. When it comes to alcohol and other drug use, strong rules need to be established to protect the well-being of a child. Setting rules is only half the job, however; we must be prepared to enforce the penalties when the rules are broken.
As parents, we need to know about alcohol and other drugs so that we can provide our children with current and correct information. If we have a working knowledge of common drugs--know their effects on the mind and body, and the symptoms of their use we can discuss these subjects intelligently with our children. In addition, well informed parents are better able to recognize if a child has symptoms of alcohol or drug-related problems: At a minimum, you should:
For current information on alcohol and other drug use, the resource section in this guide can help direct parents to clearinghouses, drug and alcohol prevention organizations, and parent groups--to name a few.
Parents who are clear about not wanting their children to use illicit drugs may find it harder to be tough about alcohol. After all, alcohol is legal for adults, many parents drink, and alcohol is a part of some religious observances. As a result, we may view alcohol as a less dangerous substance than other drugs. The facts say otherwise:
We know that smokers are 10 times as likely as nonsmokers to develop lung cancer and 3 times as likely to die at early ages from heart attack. In fact, in 1985, smoking was the leading cause of early death among adults. Nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco, is as addictive as heroin, and fewer than 20 percent of smokers are able to quit the first time they try. Despite these facts, many children use these products.
*** A Quiz for Parents***
*** ANSWERS ***
Many parents hesitate to discuss alcohol and other drug use with their child. Some of us believe that our children couldn't become involved with illegal substances. Others delay because we don't know what to say or how to say it, or we are afraid of putting ideas into our children's heads.
Don't wait until you think your child has a problem. Many young people in treatment programs say that they had used alcohol and other drugs for at least two years before their parents knew about it. Begin early to talk about alcohol and other drugs, and keep the lines of communication open.
Don't be afraid to admit that you don't have all the answers. Let your child know that you are concerned, and that you can work together to find answers. Some references that may help are listed later in this text of this guide.
Here are some basic hints for improving your ability to talk with your child about alcohol and other drugs:
Effective communication between parents and children is not always easy to achieve. Children and adults have different communication styles and different ways of responding in a conversation. In addition, timing and atmosphere may determine how successful communication will be. Parents should make time to talk with their children in a quiet, unhurried manner. The following tips are designed to make communication more successful.
The preceding sections have outlined some general guidelines for talking with children about alcohol and other drugs. We can make these messages more effective by taking into account the knowledge youngsters already have and their readiness to learn new information at different ages.
Drug education may seem unnecessary for preschoolers, but the attitudes and habits learned early can have an important bearing on the decisions children make later.
Three- and four-year-olds are not yet ready to learn complex facts about alcohol and other drugs, but they can learn the decision-making and problem-solving skills that they will need to refuse alcohol and other drugs later. Remember that children in this age group are not able to listen quietly for very long; they are more interested in doing things for themselves.
It's tempting for busy parents to do things for young children because it's quicker and easier. With a little planning, however, you can use the learn-by-doing approach to teach your preschooler how to make decisions. Let your child pick from a range of options that are acceptable to you. When the choice is made, make sure your child sticks with it.
Five- to nine-year-olds usually feel good about themselves. They like growing up, and they generally like school and all the new opportunities it provides. They still think and learn primarily by experience, and they don't have a good understanding of things that will happen in the future. Fact and fantasy mingle easily; the world is seen as the child wishes it to be, and not as it actually is. Children of this age need rules to guide their behavior and information to make good choices and decisions.
Discussions about alcohol and other drugs must be in the here and now, and related to people and events the child knows about. Most children are very interested in how their bodies work, so discussions should focus on maintaining good health and avoiding things that might harm the body.
Adults are very important both as teachers and as role models. Children are generally trusting, and they believe that the decisions adults make for them are right. Helping your child know whom to trust is important. They need to understand that just because someone tells them to do something, it is not always right to do it. By the end of the third grade, your child should understand:
This is a period of slowed physical growth when typically a lot of energy goes into learning. Children 10 to 12 years old love to learn facts, especially strange ones, and they want to know how things work and what sources of information are available to them. Friends--a single best friend or a group of friends--become very important. What children this age are interested in or will be committed to often is determined by what the group thinks. Children's self-image is determined in part by the extent to which they are accepted by peers, especially popular peers. As a result, a lot of "followers" are unable to make independent decisions and choices.
This age is perhaps the most important time for parents to focus on increased efforts at drug prevention. These late elementary school years are crucial to decisions about the use of alcohol and other drugs. The greatest risk for starting to smoke comes in the sixth and seventh grades. Research shows that the earlier youngsters begin to use alcohol and other drugs, the more likely they are to have real trouble.
Your child will need a clear no-use message, factual information, and strong motivation to resist pressures to try alcohol and other drugs and to reinforce the determination to remain drug free. Appropriate new information could include:
During the early teens "fitting in" with friends is a controlling influence. In some ways, the onset of puberty is like a "rebirth." Children want and need to let go of the past and to find their own unique identity. This often means letting go of old friendships and ties with teachers and other adults, as well as old ways of doing things. The decision-making and problem- solving methods that they learned as young children are still helpful, but young teens will be making new decisions based on new information and new goals.
Young people this age can begin to deal with abstractions and the future. They understand that their actions have consequences, and they know how their behavior affects others. They sometimes have a shaky self-image: they are not sure whether they are growing and changing adequately, they are often in conflict with adults, they are not sure where they are headed, and they tend to see themselves as not "okay." Strong emotional support and a good model of adult behavior are particularly important now.
Young people who use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs typically begin before leaving the ninth grade. Be sure that family discussions about drugs emphasize the immediate, unpleasant effects of alcohol and other drug use. Telling junior high school students who are smoking that they will get lung cancer or heart disease in several decades is less likely to make an impression than talking about bad breath, stained teeth and fingers, and burned clothing.
Many young people use drugs because their friends use drugs. A large portion of your prevention efforts during these years should be spent reinforcing your child's motivation to avoid alcohol and other drugs. Here are some important steps:
By the end of ninth grade your child should know:
High school students are future-oriented and can engage in abstract thinking. They have an increasingly realistic understanding of adults. Young people therefore want adults to discuss their concerns and the ways they solve problems and make decisions. You may have a tremendous new opportunity to help your children at this age. At the same time, the teenagers continue to be group-orientated, and belonging to the group motivates much of their behavior and actions. During these years, young people often develop a broader outlook and become more interested in the welfare of others.
By the end of high school, your child should understand:
You may want to focus on the potential long-term effects of alcohol and other drugs during these years: drugs can ruin your teen's chances of getting into college, being accepted by the military, or being hired for certain jobs. Your teen may also be impressed by the importance of being seen as a good role model for a younger brother or sister.
Although young people long for independence it is particularly important to keep them involved in the family and family activities. They should join the rest of the family for dinner regularly, be part of family vacations, and remain part of family routines.
Young people use drugs for many reasons that have to do with how they feel about themselves, how they get along with others, and how they live. No one factor determines who will use drugs and who will not, but here are some predictors:
Being alert to the signs of alcohol and other drug use requires a keen eye. It is sometimes hard to know the difference between normal teenage behavior and behavior caused by drugs. Changes that are extreme or that last for more than a few days may signal drug use. Consider the following questions:
Positive answers to any of these questions can indicate alcohol or other drug use. However, these signs may also apply to a child who is not using drugs but who may be having other problems at school or in the family. If you are in doubt, get help. Have your family doctor or local clinic examine your child to rule out illness or other physical problems.
Watch for signs of drugs and drug paraphernalia as well. Possession of common items such as pipes, rolling papers, small medicine bottles, eye drops, or butane lighters may signal that your child is using drugs.
Even when the signs are clearer, usually after the child has been using drugs for a time, parents sometimes do not want to admit that their child could have a problem. Anger, resentment, guilt, and a sense of failure as parents are common reactions.
If your child is using drugs, it is important to avoid blaming yourself for the problem and to get whatever help is needed to stop it. The earlier a drug problem is detected and faced, the more likely it is that your child can be helped.
First, do not confront a child who is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, but wait until the child is sober. Then discuss your suspicions with your child calmly and objectively. Bring in other members of the family to help, if necessary.
Second, impose whatever discipline your family has decided on for violating the rules and stick to it. Don't relent because the youngster promises never to do it again.
Many young people lie about their alcohol and drug use. If you think your child is not being truthful and the evidence is pretty strong, you may wish to have your child evaluated by a health professional experienced in diagnosing adolescents with alcohol- and drug-related problems.
If your child has developed a pattern of drug use or has engaged in heavy use, you will probably need help to intervene. If you do not know about drug treatment programs in your area, call your doctor, local hospital, or county mental health society for a referral. Your school district should have a substance abuse coordinator or a counselor who can refer you to treatment programs, too. Parents whose children have been through treatment programs can also provide information.
The most promising drug prevention programs are those in which parents, students, schools, and communities join together to send a firm, clear message that the use of alcohol and other drugs will not be tolerated.
The development of strong policies that spell out rules governing use, possession, and sale of alcohol and other drugs is a key part of any school-based prevention program. Learn what your school's policies are and actively support them. If your school has no policy, work with teachers, administrators, and community members to develop one. Good school policies typically specify what constitutes an alcohol or other drug offense, spell out the consequences for violating the policy, describe procedures for handling violations, and build community support for the policy.
Visit your child's school and learn how drug education is being taught. Are the faculty members trained to teach about alcohol and other drug use? Is drug education a regular part of the curriculum or limited to a special week? Is it taught through the health class, or do all teachers incorporate drug education into their subject area? Do children in every grade receive drug education, or is it limited to selected grades? Is there a component for parents?
If your school has an active program to prevent drug use, ask to see the materials that are being used. Do they contain a clear message that alcohol and other drug use is wrong and harmful? Is the information accurate and up-to-date? Does the school have referral sources for students who need special help?
Let other parents know about the school's policies through meetings of the parent-teacher organization. At least one meeting each year should be devoted to issues of alcohol and other drug use. Knowledgeable local physicians and pharmacists can be invited to discuss how drugs affect the growth and development of children, police officers can outline the scope and severity of the drug problem in your community, and substance abuse counselors can discuss symptoms of alcohol and other drug use and treatment options.
Help your child to grow up alcohol and drug free by supporting community efforts to give young people healthy alternatives. Alcohol- and drug-free proms and other school-based celebrations are growing in popularity around the country. You can help to organize such events, solicit contributions, and serve as a chaperon.
Local businesses are also an excellent source of support for alternative activities such as athletic teams and part-time jobs. Shops and restaurants in one community in Texas, for example, now offer discounts to young people who test negative for drugs in a voluntary urinalysis.
Other parents can be valuable allies in your effort to keep your child drug free. Get to know the parents of your child's friends. Share expectations about behavior and develop a set of mutually agreed upon rules about such things as curfews, unchaperoned parties, and places that are off-limits. Helping youngsters stay out of trouble is easier when rules of conduct are clearly known and widely shared.
Build a network of other adults with whom you can talk. Join a parent organization in your community, or talk informally with your friends about common concerns in rearing children. Sharing experiences can provide insights that help you deal with your child's behavior. It also helps to know that other parents have faced similar situations.
Despite the grim stories that fill our newspapers and dominate the evening news, most young people do not use illicit drugs, they do not approve of drug use by their friends, and they share their parents' concern about the dangers posed by drugs. Successful prevention efforts, whether in a family, school, or community setting, have many elements in common: a concern for the welfare and well being of young people, dedicated adults who are willing to devote their time and energy, and an unwavering commitment to being drug free.
That commitment led a small group of parents in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to form Bowling Green Parents for Drug-Free Youth. The organization has worked closely with the local schools and community to provide training and education for all members of the community, and it has raised more than $35,000 to help finance its efforts. Questionnaires administered to students in grades 7-12 for 6 consecutive years have shown a steady decline in the use of alcohol and other drugs.
Gail Amato, president of the Bowling Green Parents for Drug- Free Youth, speaks persuasively about why parents must be involved in helping to prevent alcohol and other drug use:
People often ask me why I think parents are the answer, and I think it's because we have the most to lose. Schools can help, churches can help, law enforcement can help, but no one can replace the family. Being involved with drug and alcohol prevention lets our children know that we care. It strengthens the family and helps us to be the kind of parents our children need us to be.
A similar commitment leads parents of students in Commodore Stockton Skills School in Stockton, California, to donate more than 400 volunteer hours each month helping in the classrooms. Last year a family picnic held during Red Ribbon Week, a national drug awareness week, drew 500 participants for a day of games and activities focused on prevention of drug use.
In addition to helping in the classroom, Stockton parents work to maintain discipline, to reinforce students' respect for other people, and to foster personal responsibility at home.
As a result, behavioral problems in the school are infrequent, attendance is high, and area police report juvenile drug arrests from every school in the city except Commodore Stockton.
Successful efforts to rid a neighborhood of drugs are often joint efforts. Two years ago in New Haven, Connecticut, the residents of six housing projects joined forces to solve a neighborhood problem--drugs. The residents were afraid for the safety of their children and sick of the murders and other nightly violence related to drug deals.
Representing more than 1,400 families from the six projects, the group drafted an action plan to rid the neighborhood of drugs. The residents asked the local police to conduct "sting" operations periodically. Members of the New Haven news media have been invited to the project, where residents speak openly about the problems they encounter. The residents have invited local community groups and the Greater New Haven Labor Council to join in the fight. In addition, the mayor has become directly involved in their struggle.
One member, speaking on behalf of the residents, stated its main objective: "We are banding together to stop this madness so that we can have a peaceful and livable neighborhood and community." Today, drug sales have decreased, and members of the community feel safer and more hopeful about the future.