Pubdate: Fri, 23 Aug 2002
Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Copyright: 2002 Austin American-Statesman
Author: Laurie Delong


Parents going through the annual back-to-school rituals across the country 
are asking the same questions they ask every year. Does she need a new 
backpack? Does he still fit into those soccer cleats? But parents need to 
add another, harder question to the list: Is this the year someone will 
offer drugs to my child?

Chances are, the answer to that question will eventually be yes. More than 
half of all American kids will use drugs at least once between first and 
12th grade, but many will choose not to experiment. Can you influence 
whether your child decides to give in?

* Recognize that this is your job. Don't leave drug prevention to the 
school. Although schools have responsibility for drug education, parents 
have the greatest influence on kids, and no one is more able to help them 
grow up drug-free.

* Start early. Kids are growing up faster, and the dangers that once arose 
as kids reached their teens are creeping lower and lower on the age scale. 
Kids as young as 10 are being introduced to drugs. Help to form your 
children's attitudes toward drugs early. They will know drugs are bad long 
before someone offers, making it easier for them to say no when the time comes.

* Keep it simple. Children tend to see things as either black or white. So, 
there is no room for ambivalence. Be firm, but mostly you should be clear 
about what you believe and the behavior you expect from them. Many of the 
kids with the most severe drug problems being treated at our adolescent 
treatment programs at Phoenix House started with trying a little alcohol or 
marijuana at a party, thinking, "How could it hurt me?"

* Encourage your children to learn to rely on and believe in themselves. 
Self-reliance begins with their taking responsibility for themselves. 
Starting early to care for themselves, their toys and their clothing makes 
it less likely that they will try drugs at an early age. Taking 
responsibility also firms up their sense of themselves and makes it easier 
for them to make independent choices about drug use.

* Be a good role model. No matter what you tell children, behavior speaks 
volumes. Maintain a healthy lifestyle, and it's likely they will, too. At 
Phoenix House, one of the most effective parts of treatment for many 
recovering drug abusers is simply watching and learning from people who are 
living sober, healthy lives. Your child will learn how to live safely and 
happily from you.

* Talk to your kids. As your children grow up, rules won't be enough. They 
need reasons as well. Be prepared to talk with your children about the use 
of alcohol, tobacco and drugs -- and to talk with them, not just to them. 
Listen to them; encourage them to tell you what they think. Bring to these 
conversations lots of patience and a good set of facts about the risks, 
lifetime penalties and health consequences of drug use.

* Know your kids' friends. Are the friends likely to try whatever is 
offered to them? Are they likely to be the one offering? It may not be your 
job to be their parent, but they will affect your child's life.

* Don't worry. Taking a firm stand against drug use will not damage your 
relationship with your child. A warm and loving relationship is the reward 
of parenthood, not the purpose. Most children will be grateful that you are 
clear and honest with them. Moreover, many youngsters are looking for a 
good reason to avoid trying drugs, so it helps if they can explain, "My 
folks would kill me, if I did."
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