Simply put, parents are utterly essential in keeping young people from starting alcohol or drug abuse. In today’s world, it takes far more work than simply setting rules. Nor is it enough to rely on schools to provide drug prevention classes to fill in any gaps. That might have worked twenty or thirty years ago but it is not sufficient today.
If parents use their own drug-using experience to assess the risks their own kids face, they could make a serious mistake. Today’s drug-using environment is infinitely more dangerous than the one today’s parents faced. Twenty years ago, there were no container loads of synthetic drugs coming across the oceans. Heroin was not being distributed to every suburb across the country. Marijuana was not legal for medical use in 23 states and legal for recreational use in four, coloring teens’ ideas about the hazards of consumption.
These are different days – keeping today’s teens safe requires more education, supervision and all-around vigilance than ever before. Parents are vital in this role and should never make the mistake of downplaying their influence in keeping their children safe from drug abuse and addiction.
How Many Parents Think their Children are Using Drugs?
A 2011 survey from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital helps us see if parents have an accurate grasp of this situation. Among parents of 13 to 17-year-olds, only 5% thought their child had used marijuana (the most commonly used illicit drug). Note that these answers varied by the age of the child. For example, 23% of parents of 17-year-olds thought their child had used marijuana, and only 3% of parents of 13-year-olds.
But the annual Monitoring the Future survey of 8th, 10th and 12th grade students told a very different story. Nearly half of 12th grade students and 20% of eighth grade students say they have abused an illicit drug (which would include abuse of prescription drugs).
Actions Parents Can (and Should) Take
Protecting children from drug abuse takes vigilance and building a strong anti-drug atmosphere in the home. Here’s ten ways parents can build this atmosphere.
Drink lightly or not at all. Make sure your kids know you will never drink and drive or be in a car or boat with a driver who has been drinking.
When painkillers are necessary after surgery or injury, use as few as possible and consider drugless alternatives like acupuncture, chiropractic, massage or physical therapy.
Keep pills locked away. This includes painkillers, antidepressants, stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin or muscle relaxants. This is understandably inconvenient for the person who needs to take them but you never know when this could save someone’s life.
Also store alcohol in locked cabinets. Interviews with teens who went on to become addicted show that many sneaked alcohol out of their parents’ supplies or from the homes of friends and neighbors.
Know the specific the drug situation in your town and nearby schools. There are usually community relations personnel in school districts and law enforcement offices who can help you with this. With this knowledge, you’ll know what drugs to warn your children about.
Make it very clear that you expect your children to stay drug and alcohol-free until they are 21 years old. If they do this, research shows that they are practically certain to never have a substance abuse problem.
Always know where your children are spending time. Make sure it is clear to them that they are expected to walk out of gathering where underage kids are drinking or where anyone is using drugs. They should feel safe calling for a ride home, no matter how late it is. Any teen or young adult who goes to a music festival or dance club must be well-educated on the risks associated with the kinds of drugs found there. These risks include death the first time some of those drugs are used.
When a child leaves for college, they should be prepared for the drug-using or alcohol-abusing culture they may find there. They should be be coached to focus on educational goals. Plan on monitoring their grades and activities their first year away. A surprise drop-in visit or even two might make your concern unmistakable. This may seem overbearing, but more than 1,800 college students die from alcohol abuse each year. It takes some young people some time and support to learn how to deal with the temptation to overindulge.
Know more about the drugs your kids might encounter than they do. When you do, you can tell them the honest facts about the dangers before a drug dealer or drug-using friend lies to them about how “harmless” or “legal” a drug is. Answer all their questions. That way, your kids will KNOW why they must say no.
Always know the signs of drug use. If your child is using drugs or drinking, they will try to conceal this fact. You will need to be able to spot the signs no matter how hard they try to hide them.
You can find hundreds of pages of drug information on the Narconon website. Follow this link to the drug information section of our site: http://www.narconon.org/drug-abuse/.
On this page, you can find signs and symptoms of use: http://www.narconon.org/drug-abuse/signs-symptoms-of-drug-abuse.html.
In the current environment, too many families are losing their beloved children far too often. While we wish it could be different, it simply takes vigilance and education to save those children who might otherwise be tempted into using drugs or alcohol that could end their lives.