This series is in response to Where’s My Parenting Script?! Please check back each Wednesday in the month of August for more tips.
“Just say no”, the famous words many of us grew up with. It has been established for some time now that substance abuse is high on the list of prevention needs for raising kids in today’s culture. Is it as simple as “Just say No”? What else can parents do? Does it even make a difference if parents try to talk with kids about this? Here are five practical tips for parents that will answer these questions and offer some helpful guidance on this issue:
1) Clear and honest communication: So this is a very promising rate of risk reduction – when parents have clear conversations with their kids/teens about this issue, rates of use are cut in half. That’s right! Research tells us kids are 50% less likely to use than those who are getting no information from parents on this topic. Just when you may wonder if they are listening or care to talk with you about these topics, the research is clear that you are still a powerful force in your kid’s life. Your direct communication on this topic does matter. While part of this conversation will be providing accurate information, avoid a straight lecture on facts and limit setting, the most powerful communication is a dialogue, inviting questions, exploring their perceptions and experience of how kids face this issue today.
2) Healthy coping: Substance use can be a way to manage, mask or numb emotional pain. When we teach and model healthy coping, we set a foundation for kids to be able to manage emotional pain in appropriate ways and by doing so give them alternatives to unhealthy coping they may otherwise seek out. What is healthy coping? It is how we handle stress, challenges and complex emotions that we face in life. Healthy coping can look like acknowledging and talking about feelings, using positive self-talk, teaching relaxation strategies, engaging in creative activities or thinking about something in a new way. Coping is very unique to what works for each individual but research supports for all of us that there are physiological changes in our bodies when we engage in positive coping activities. One additional note on coping – it is a natural desire to want our children to be happy and cheerful and it can be tempting to try to move kids quickly from difficult feelings to positive ones. However, it’s important to find a healthy balance of also embracing their feelings of sadness, loss and frustration and not always jumping in to rescue or distract them from these feelings. This allows them to experience the ebb and flow of emotions as we come alongside them to empower them in navigating and overcoming challenges in ways that promote growth and resiliency.
3) Be proactive in your home: Many of us think of illicit drug use when we hear ‘substance abuse’. However, research tells us teens are actually more likely to abuse prescription and over the counter drugs than street drugs. The CDC reports prescription drug abuse now leads to more overdose deaths than street drugs do in this country. DrugFreeWorld.org reports “50% of teens believe that prescription drugs are much safer than illegal street drugs—60% to 70% say that home medicine cabinets are their source of drugs.” So when thinking prevention in this area, start by looking in your own home. Be thoughtful about where you store medications and alcohol in your home to reduce easy access. This is a very basic measure that helps protect not just your own children but also their friends when they are in your home. Talk openly about the importance of appropriate use of prescribed medications and provide accurate information on the dangers of using medications not prescribed for you and/or not used for their intended purpose.
4) Start earlier than you may think: When we think of equipping kids in this area, many think of teens. Unfortunately, the average age for first trying alcohol is 11 and marijuana is 12. So you want to start talking openly and honestly about this topic with pre-teens.
5) Go beyond “just say no”: Equipping kids with other ideas for language they can use when they may find themselves in challenging situations can be helpful. This would ideally be a joint effort, a collective brain storm on what kids can say or do when asked about trying alcohol or drugs. You can also explore together the reasons kids/teens might want to try alcohol or use drugs to create an atmosphere for open dialogue and greater understanding of this issue together.
Here are a few additional online resources for parents on this topic:
Thank you for letting me share with you through this series. I hope the information has been helpful in adding a few more tools in your parent tool belt on topics that can sometimes feel daunting to navigate. While knowledge is power, know also there is no substitute for your own expert understanding and intuition of your child’s unique needs as they reach new stages. The burden we place on ourselves to get everything right along this journey is tremendous but to raise empowered kids means first embracing your own empowerment in motherhood. To reflect and end on a famous mommy quote “There is no way to be a perfect mother… but a million ways to be a good one.”
Read more from Heather:: Safety; Sexual Abuse; Bullying
Heather Askew is a fellow metro area mom and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker that specializes in working with children and families impacted by trauma. She was born and raised in Oklahoma and moved to the metro area to attend college. She married her high school sweetheart and they have two of the best kids in the world. She is passionate about the joys and struggles of intentional living, matters of faith and the heart of parenting.