by Shane Watson
Manager of Parent and Faculty Education for notMYkid

Summer vacation is over and kids are now returning to school. With the new school year come new possibilities, new experiences, and even new classmates and friends. It’s important for parents to be aware that a return to school can also bring about some new temptations for their kids as well. That’s why “Back to School” is an important time for parents to have a dialogue with their kids about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. However, many parents are unsure how to begin the conversation.

“Where do I begin? At what age should I start? What should I say? What should I not say?”

Don’t panic. The fact that you’re asking questions is a good thing, because it means you’re paying attention and understand the importance of the subject. The willingness to approach the topic of substance abuse is the first key to any prevention plan, and the earlier you get started, the better your chance for success.

Start the discussion at an early age to allow you to lay the groundwork for future conversations. Even children as young as three to five years old can understand basic early lessons about making healthy choices and not ingesting anything that isn’t given to them by a parent or caregiver.

By the time they’re a few years older and attending school full time, it’s essential that you begin giving them concrete information about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Be direct with them about your feelings regarding substance abuse, and set very clear guidelines and rules. Be consistent with those rules, and make sure your own behavior fits with them. Your actions will make an even greater impression on your child than your words do.

Use current events as conversation starters to continue the discussion over time. If there has been a major incident in the news involving drugs or alcohol, use that opportunity to ask your child their feelings about the incident and the people involved. Remember, this conversation is a two-way discussion and not a lecture. Ask questions and allow your child the opportunity to express their feelings on the topic. Actively listen to what they have to say. You may learn a lot, and their answers will allow you to better refine your prevention strategy.

When discussing drugs and alcohol with your child, it is crucial to make sure you don’t overreact or lose your temper. Make a point to maintain your composure. Substance abuse can be an emotional topic, and it can be easy to get caught up in those emotions. However, doing so can make your children hesitant to open up or discuss things with you in the future. Take a deep breath and remember that maintaining open lines of communication is important to preventing substance abuse. Let your child know that they can talk to you at any time about anything, and that nothing will ever make you love them any less.

Help your child plan how to say “no” when offered drugs or alcohol. Often a simple “no” by itself isn’t enough to deflect peer pressure and allow your child to save face with their friends. It’s important for them to be prepared to give a reason why they can’t use drugs. Some popular ones include not wanting to affect athletic performance, not wanting to risk getting in trouble with the police, or being drug tested by parents. It’s important to role-play scenarios with your child and come up with customized reasons that work best for them.

Consider home drug testing. Home drug tests are available at many drug stores, and can serve as a very powerful deterrent. Not only do they provide kids a way to say “no” when offered drugs, they offer parents the peace of mind that comes with being sure that their children are drug free. Additionally, they can be used as part of a reward system. Tell your child that when their test comes back negative, you will take them to a movie, an athletic event, a concert, or spend time with them doing something else enjoyable.

Finally, educate yourself on drugs, current drug trends, symptoms of substance abuse, slang, paraphernalia, concealment devices, hiding places, and symbols associated with substance abuse. The Internet is a terrific resource for research. If you see or hear something you’re not familiar with and wonder if it is drug-related, spend some time researching it online. If you notice changes in your child’s behavior and wonder if they could be using drugs, use a search engine to find out what substances are associated with those symptoms. A major part of drug prevention is awareness, and the landscape related to drugs is constantly changing and evolving, so it is crucial to keep updated.

When it comes to substance abuse, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is more than a proverb. It’s an approach that can save a great deal of time, effort, money, and heartache.

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