There are so many outside factors that can shape our children; parents may sometimes feel like their voice can get lost, especially when it comes to steering kids away from drugs and alcohol. But it is possible to stake your place as your child’s strongest influence, and here are some ideas of how to start.
Miley Cyrus, the once-popular Disney star who was idolized by kids everywhere, is now singing about taking the drug Molly, doing “lines” in the bathroom and partying all night.
With those kinds of messages in popular media, keeping your children on the right path may seem like a challenge — but it is possible. And the biggest step is to set yourself up as the most important influence in their lives; and the sooner you start, the better.
“Parents are the number one reason why kids don’t do drugs,” says Peggy B. Sapp, president and CEO of Informed Families/The Florida Family Partnership.
“Drug education is about teaching children self-control and responsibility. It’s not so much about talking about drugs as it is about positioning yourself as the parent and authority figure,” Sapp says.
Here, from Informed Families and the National Crime Prevention Council, are some ideas on how to build stronger relationships that will keep your children on the right track.
Establish good communication. The better you know your children, the easier it will be to guide them towards positive activities and friendships. Develop a genuine interest in your child as a person. Make time for his or her questions and comments, even if they seem silly to you. Talk to your children every day. Share what happened to you and ask what happened to them during the day. Ask your children their opinions and include them in making decisions. Show your children that you value their thoughts and input.
Get involved in your children’s lives. Young people are less likely to get involved with drugs when caring adults are a part of their life. Spend time doing something your children want to do every day. Support your children’s activities by attending special events like recitals and games, and praise their efforts. When you are with your child, be present in the moment. Put away your cell phone. Don’t worry about something else while you are talking with your child. If you are preoccupied, you will send the message that you don’t think your child is important.
Be a source of support. Help your children manage problems by asking what is wrong when they seem upset and letting them know you are there to help. Listen to your child’s or teen’s concerns non-judgmentally. Repeat them to show that you heard and understand. Even if you disagree, do not preach! You want your child to feel comfortable and confident in coming to you.
Make clear rules and enforce them consistently. Discuss rules, expectations, and consequences in advance. If a rule is broken, be sure to enforce the consequences such as taking away television or video games. This teaches children to take responsibility for their actions. Give lots of praise when your children follow rules and meet expectations.
Be a positive role model. Demonstrate ways to solve problems, have fun, and manage stress without using alcohol or drugs. Children really do notice what their parents say and do. Avoid contradictions between your words and your actions. This includes how you deal with strong feelings, emotions, stress, and even minor aches and pains. Actions really do speak louder than words.
Help your children choose friends wisely. When children have friends who don’t engage in risky behaviors, they are likely to resist them too. Get to know your children’s friends and their families. Involve your children in positive group activities, such as sports and other extra-curricular activities, church, scouts, and after-school programs.
As parents, we are, indeed, the anti-drug.
Tom Bartley is a retired educator and currently is the Director of Parent Education at the Family Support Council.