Have you been exercising your Parent Power? You have it, so why not use it? Just like our muscles, if you don’t use it, you lose it. And, for as much as youth test us, they also want clear guidelines. It’s also not as complicated as you might think.
First, resources. A great resource is: “How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid: the Straight Dope for Parents,” by Joseph A. Califano, Jr. Califano is the founder of the national Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. He also held numerous government positions including serving as the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare from 1977 to 1979. It was during that time that he launched the anti-smoking campaign. On a personal front, Califano, a former four-pack-a-day smoker, quit when his son said that for his 11th birthday he’d like it if his father could quit smoking cigarettes.
Califano said he’s often asked what the most important thing he’s learned about raising drug-free kids. His answer is thought-provoking: “You, as a parent, are on the front lines every day. Whether your child smokes, drinks, or uses drugs is more likely to be determined in your living room or dining room, or over the kitchen table, that in any classroom, courtroom, or legislative hearing room.”
Califano’s recipe for igniting your Parent Power includes: taking a hands-on approach to parenting. That means being there – get involved in your children’s lives or activities, set a good example, set rules and enforce them with consequences, monitor your child’s whereabouts and get to know your kids’ friends and their parents. There’s more in this book that is jam packed with suggestions and tips. One of the best and easiest ways to engage with your children is to eat dinner together. Kids who eat dinner with their families frequently are less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs than those who never had dinner with their parents. Dinner makes a difference.
Simple, but not easy, especially with both parents working. Still, any regular routines that involve family together time are times that will make an impact on reducing risky behaviors.
Be your kid’s parent, not their friend. Set boundaries and enforce them. Be open and honest with your kids, but if they ask if you did drugs, don’t lie. Don’t glamorize it either. Califano says negative experiences can be a good teaching point. Use the time to learn why they are asking the questions. Something is likely going on in their life, be it peer pressure or curiosity.
The Partnership for a Drug-Free America did an Attitude Tracking Survey and found that only 14% of parents said their child might be using marijuana. Of the teens polled, 42% or three times as many said they had smoked pot. Kids may hide their drug use and parents may be in denial. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that if you suspect your child is having a drug problem, he or she may be having a serious one. Trust your instincts. Monitor the situation. Check their rooms and belongings. Talk to your child’s pediatrician – there may be other medical or mental health issues as well. Suggestions about getting to the truth of the matter include not confronting your child when he or she is angry or drunk. Wait for a cooling off period when your child has sobered up. Have a plan. Talk to your child in private – without siblings and cell phones.
Finally, you are their best and first teacher. Set your ground rules about not using drugs. What kind of example are you setting? Your actions may speak louder than your words. If you drink, do so in moderation. Talk and listen to your kids. Keep up to date about drug trends. Talk about avoiding drugs and risky behaviors. Encourage your child to have close, positive friendships. Teach your child ways to say no. For instance, they can firmly say “No!” “My parents will drug test me.” “No thanks, I don’t do that.” They can even suggest doing something else.
Parenting is never easy. It’s a lifelong job. Remember why you signed on for it in the first place and remember again that you are their first and best teacher.