As kids of all ages get ready for another school year, so too, can parents work to prepare their children to face the pressures, stressors, and risky choices their students may face. This is especially true when it comes to substance use. Alcohol and drug use, including misuse of prescription drugs, are a very real problem in schools across the country, even locally. However they don’t have to be an issue for your child. Though parents cannot always be around, there are a number of things they can do to help reduce the likelihood of their son or daughter getting caught up in the dangerous cycle of substance abuse.
Sometimes parents mistakenly feel that drug and alcohol temptations won’t present themselves until high school or college. While exposure to substances is greater at these stages, adolescence in general represents an extremely important time for their child. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes, “risk of drug abuse increases greatly during times of transition”. For youth, this can include changing schools, moving up in grades or facing academic challenges. Think, for example, of the immense change one goes through when progressing through elementary school to middle school or middle to high school. Though exciting, such changes can be daunting and stressful. Add to that the fact of greater availability of substances, especially in high school, and parents can begin to understand why conversations about drugs and alcohol are best had early on.
What can parents do? One of the most important things is set a good example. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Youth of all ages take notice on what their parents do. Instead of fearing this, embrace this. If, for example, you choose to consume alcohol when your child is present, do so responsibly. Be sure to explain why adults can drink with low risk and why it would be very high risk for them, noting that our brains develop well in to our 20s and any use below that age can be especially harmful. Make a point to explain why you refrain from certain activities like driving after drinking, explaining the effects alcohol can have on one’s coordination, eyesight, and even behavior, as age appropriate. Take care in how you store your prescription drugs, such as with a lockbox, explaining how such drugs, even when prescribed, are not to be taken lightly and, when misused, can be very harmful. Storing them in such a manner not only deters improper access but also sends a message on how medications should be treated.
Beyond actions, having open and honest conversations is also vital. Make it a point to address the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and drug use, especially when the context presents itself. For example, a movie or television program may depict substance use in a glamorized or unrealistic way, and such messages can be profoundly influential on your child. Combat this by being aware of what your child is watching, but also explain how the media can misrepresent or not give the full truth of what drugs can do. If your child says something that may indicate an incomplete understanding of a substance, address it by not only stating why such things can be harmful, but always use the opportunity to explain how drugs and alcohol can harm their goals and aspirations as well.
Another component of drug and alcohol prevention that can be overlooked by parents is that of positive encouragement. Recognize the efforts as well as achievements of your child. A good grade on a test, a strong performance at a match, or dedication to studying are all examples of positive behaviors that should be recognized. Youth that have these positive activities as part of their life, along with healthy relationships, are less likely to engage in substance use. When employed regularly, all of these things can have a big impact on keeping your child safe, healthy, and successful.
• Jeffrey Meyers is an ASAC prevention specialist in Cedar Rapids. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org