Parent Power

How you can help keep your kids drug-free.

by Christy Heitger-Casbon

The statistics are startling. According to the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug among America’s youth. Focus Adolescent Services reports that the average age of first marijuana use is 14, and each year more teens enter treatment for marijuana abuse than for all other illicit drugs combined.

So why are so many kids using pot? One reason may be that students still believe pot is relatively harmless, a notion that runs counter to reports by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that state, “Marijuana is actually 25 to 50 times more potent today than it was 30 years ago.”

Influencing your child

Fortunately, you are not powerless over your children’s decision to try drugs. In fact, you have a tremendous impact on your child’s everyday decision-making process. The results of a 2000 Columbia University survey conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) found that 42 percent of teens who don’t use marijuana say it’s because of their parents’ influence.

It appears that instilling strong values in your child significantly increases the chances that she will make good judgments and smart choices. On the other hand, a lack of influence impacts a child negatively. The CASA survey revealed nearly one in five teens lives with uninvolved, or “hands-off,” parents more easily fall into deviant behavior and are four times more likely to engage in substance abuse than kids with “hands-on” parents.


Here’s how you can be a “hands-on” parent:

  • Know how your child spends her free time. Ask her where she’s going; who she’s hanging out with; and the names, addresses, and phone numbers of her friends and their parents. Eliminating associations with negative peer groups is essential because the Bible tells us that good character can be corrupted by bad relationships (1 Corinthians 15:33). If your child surrounds herself with virtuous people who influence her in positive ways, she’ll be less tempted by drugs.
  • Know the parents of your child’s friends and their parenting styles and values.
  • Pay attention to things that might influence your child, such as movies, music, Web sites, video games, and television shows.
  • Know what your child’s grades typically are.
  • Enforce a curfew, establish rules, and clearly spell out the consequences for breaking those rules. Your child may say that he hates rules, but in truth, kids can’t function without them — and neither can adults. Think about how irritated you’d be if the speed limit changed every day. Or what if your boss expected you to be at work at 7 a.m. some days and 9 a.m. other days but didn’t bother telling you his expectations ahead of time? With non-existent or constantly changing rules, you’d likely feel frazzled and frustrated much of the time. That’s how children with no rules or boundaries feel. Your kids deserve to know that you love and care about them enough to make rules, set limits, and voice your expectations. Make it clear that using drugs is unacceptable. Although it may not always seem like it, children and teenagers don’t want to disappoint their parents. In fact, two-thirds of kids say that losing their parents’ respect is one of the main reasons they don’t use drugs.

Is your child using?

If your child is on drugs, chances are you’ll see changes in his grades, mood, hobbies, friends, personality, energy level, and/or physical appearance. The following warning signs should alert you:

  • gaining or losing a considerable amount of weight
  • ditching classes, falling grades, tardiness
  • fluctuating mood, depression, confusion, general apathy, forgetfulness, decreased motivation, low self-esteem, increased irritability, hostility, and aggression
  • changing appearance (dress, hair, makeup) to a more unconventional style; less concerned with hygiene
  • hanging out with new friends
  • waning interest in hobbies, sports, and favorite activities
  • breaking household, school, and societal rules (getting in trouble with the law); ignoring curfew
  • acting secretive and isolating himself from family, taking a long time to answer a locked bedroom door
  • sleeping unusual hours (more during the day, less at night)
  • exhibiting poor health and red, glassy eyes

Ten tips

Here are ten suggestions for keeping your child drug-free:

1. Don’t be a passive observer in your child’s life or let his character be shaped by the media, society, or deviant peers.

Do get involved in your child’s life by asking questions about his friends, interests, and school projects and functions. Attend his sporting events, go shopping together, and gather as a family for meals without having the TV on in the background.

2. Don’t lecture your child or monopolize the conversation.

Do ask open-ended questions, and listen without judgment. Kids will more readily discuss their feelings when they are actively “doing something,” so try to initiate conversations when you are involved in an activity together (e.g., shooting hoops, taking a walk, making dinner).

3. Don’t constantly criticize your child or assume that she has “outgrown” your love and affection.

Do praise your child when she makes positive choices. Hug her, let her know that you’ll always be there for her, and do whatever you can to help boost her self-esteem. Kids desperately crave acceptance, especially if they feel like a misfit in some way. However, confident children who are happy with themselves are less prone to stray toward deviant behavior.

4. Don’t underestimate the importance of involving your child in constructive after-school activities.

Do encourage your child to participate in activities where drugs are less likely to be (e.g., volunteer work, academic clubs, and youth group functions).

5. Don’t operate on the “one and done” principle, thinking, I had the “drug talk.” Glad I don’t ever have to do that again!

Do discuss drugs and their negative consequences on a regular basis. For example, if you see a movie, read a newspaper or magazine article, or hear a song on the radio that could be a springboard for conversation about drug use, seize the moment and start communicating. Also, do more than state facts. Share your values and beliefs, and tell your child why you feel the way you do.

6. Don’t assume your child already knows the dangers of drug use, and don’t offer futile, general warnings like “Stay away from drugs. They’re bad.”

Do be specific about the risks involved in drug use. Many kids feel invulnerable and can’t see how drugs will negatively impact their future. Tell them that marijuana can impair memory, learning, problem-solving, concentration, coordination, cognitive development, and perception of depth, sights, sounds, and time. Furthermore, it is considered a “gateway drug,” meaning that after several weeks or months of smoking marijuana, users will often experiment with more powerful drugs such as cocaine, crystal meth, LSD, or Ecstasy. Remind your child that drugs can have a major and lasting impact on his future by dashing college dreams, squashing job opportunities, and wrecking havoc on relationships with family, friends, and significant others.

7. Don’t wait to discuss drugs with your child until you suspect she is already experimenting with them.

Do educate yourself about illicit drugs as well as over-the-counter and prescription drugs and their dangers when misused. Establish communication between you and your child early on. According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, 53 percent of teens say that they have been offered drugs. Many kids first try pot before they even hit their teen years (11 or 12 years old). Therefore, Dave Scotch, accreditation manager for Teen Challenge (a drug treatment program), encourages parents to first talk to their child about the dangers of drugs when she is nine or ten years old. Also, you can do more than just offer warnings; you can help your child learn how to say no to drugs by role-playing various scenarios with them.

8. Don’t be hypocritical by telling your child to avoid drugs and then using substances yourself.

Do live a drug-free lifestyle, and show your child that life without drugs is fun and exciting.

9. Don’t give up hope if you discover that your child is using drugs.

Do focus on your child’s health and nothing else. Try to remain calm as you communicate with your son or daughter about any behavioral changes you’ve witnessed recently. Then say, “Because I care about you, I feel these changes are good enough reasons for us to seek help as a family.”
Fortunately, good treatment organizations exist — many of them Christian-oriented, like Teen Challenge. To find a treatment program in your area, talk to a doctor, minister, school counselor, or mental health professional.

10. Don’t forget about God. He is full of compassion and wants to help you and your child. As one Bible verse says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

Do pray for your child. Overcoming substance abuse is difficult, but with patience, love, a solid support network, and a firm faith in God, your child can triumph over addiction. With your help, your son or daughter has a better chance of never becoming a startling statistic.

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