The beginning of the school year is an exciting time for children. It’s filled with shopping for that first day’s outfit, school supplies and lunch ingredients. It’s a fresh start for some and a culmination of hard work for others. Still, some kids are probably lonely and scared. Parents can support their children in a variety of ways so that drugs and alcohol do not become the solution for anything they may be going through temporarily. Here are some tips I learned by raising my three kids:
1. Everything Starts at Home
Children are little sponges, soaking up everything they see and hear. Even when we’re whispering behind closed doors, intuitively they know. They model behavior and when they are young want to be just like mom or dad. The best way for parents to ensure kids are safe when they are at school (a mecca for experimentation and making plans to experiment – no fault to the school) is to demonstrate healthy choices in regards to alcohol and drugs. It’s hard to expect children to steer clear if a parent is lax in their choices. Being present in the lives of children, taking time to talk about drugs and alcohol without instilling fear, at the dinner table, while throwing a ball or in the car will let kids know they can talk to parents when something serious is about to happen.
2. No Alcohol – No Matter What
Children operate best with a black and white set of guidelines and are much less likely to drink before they are 21, states research from MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk driving). Their research also shows that if children wait to drink until they are 21 they are 80% less likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse, and 70% less likely to drive after drinking. These are impressive statistics so it is apparent that the goal for parents is to establish clear guidelines and run interference at every opportunity. Make sure to have your child tell you what the plan after school or on the weekend is, and if it changes, a phone call is required first.
3. Keep Away from Weed
Teens are in a natural phase of finding out who they are, apart from mom and dad. Marijuana has a reputation among some as a “natural” and therefore “safe” drug. There are no safe drugs when you are prescribing them yourself, period. This creates the perfect storm for experimentation. Parents could heed advice from other parents who have been there before = always know where your children are going after school and meet the parents of their friends. A lot of people are smoking pot, nice people, but research shows it is harmful, especially in a young brain. Neuroscience magazine reported on going problems with learning and memory, damaged coordination, deformed perceptions, and difficulty in thinking and problem solving, equal effects as temporary brain damage.
4. Understand Digital Peer Pressure, Cell Phones and the “Fear of Missing Out”
The Journal of Adolescent Health reports that teens and young adults who use social media sites on a regular basis and see photos of their friends drinking and “partying” are 3 times more likely to drink and 4 times more likely to smoke. Those are big odds and some kids don’t want to miss the action at any cost. Parents can talk to children about what is real and what is made up. Most things people post on social media are inaccurate pictures of what’s really going on. The young intoxicated girl might look like she has it all together to your child, but her home life could be troubled. Social media encourages unhealthy comparison, especially at a time when young people need to be valued for who they are inside so that they can build self-esteem. Social media and cell phones are also fertile ground for older adults to prey on and exploit youth as well as being a source of communication for making plans to buy and use drugs. Parents can monitor social media participation, cell phone use and demonstrate healthy online habits.
5. Know Your Enemy
Any successful leader will tell you, know your enemy and keep him close. There is no difference where drugs, alcohol and kids are concerned. Researching the signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol abuse is a source of valuable information. Knowing your school’s drug policy, what prevention programs they have in place, where the kids hang out who are getting high will are all avenues to empower parents to help their children. Also, finding out what preventative measures the school has in place for bullying. Bullying can be a root cause for drug and alcohol experimentation, so knowing whether it is happening to your child and what the school plans to do about it are important.
All this said, as calmly and confidently that a parent can navigate their children through the school year is always best. Being mindful of their emotional state without alarming them is being proactive. Asking questions while engaged in activity let’s them feel heard instead of nagged. Keeping eyes and ears open for the signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol use and abuse puts a parent in the position of being able to take action in the event that something serious is going down. Schools is session and it’s sure to be a good year!