“It is better to build strong children than to try to repair adults.” Anonymous
Drug abuse must come close to the top of every parent’s list of nightmares. We know it’s not what we want our kids to experience, so first let’s protect them and then we can prepare them.
Top ten tips to keep your child safe from drugs
1. Notice the signs of stress.
Find a teenager, find stress. Everyone responds differently to it, so here are a variety of possible symptoms that might indicate that your child needs help:
- Loss of appetite.
- Sudden change in behaviour: moodiness, aggression, withdrawal, bouts of anxiety or prolonged sadness.
- Long unbroken sessions of computer use, TV watching or some other solitary pastime – make sure they take breaks.
- Lack of interest in activities or friends.
Become an expert on your child’s behaviour and notice when things change.
2. Talk to your kids.
You are your children’s primary defence against taking drugs. Talk to them often and, more importantly, listen. They may be frightened, confused or embarrassed to share their concerns so treat them gently. Show respect for their opinions even if they differ from yours and keep your ears tuned for phrases like “It’s OK, we won’t get into any trouble!” That almost certainly means they’re about to, but remember to maintain perspective. Drug use is not drug abuse. Let your kids know that they can talk to you anytime, about anything and you’ll minimise the risk of it becoming anything more.
3. Be clear about rules.
Teenagers are not adults. They might try to tell you differently, but they are adolescents, not adults. They are in training for the adult world and are beginning to experience some of the freedoms and choices available, but they’re no Jedi Knights yet, just padawan. Make it clear that drugs are illegal. Remind them that there are serious consequences for using or even possessing drugs. It sounds so simple, but if you don’t say it who will?
Your kids are bombarded with other people’s values every day from the TV, teachers, their peer group etc. Did you know that on average parents spend less than an hour of quality time communicating with their kids every day, while they spend about 3 hours a day watching TV! Who’s winning in the values stakes so far? You need to make it clear what your values are because if you don’t, someone else will do the job for you.
4. Address peer pressure.
Teach your kids to be proud of who they are. Help them realise that they don’t need someone else’s approval to know they’re wonderful. Get them to think about what their so-called ‘friends’ are getting out of pressurising them. Ask the question “Do you think they want you to join in and be the same as them for your sake, or for theirs?”
Give them some simple assertiveness training and teach them how to say ‘no’. Help them learn to say it firmly but without judgement or aggression, as this will only backfire on them and make the situation more emotional. A firm “No thanks!” is often all it will take, but a good fall-back is always “My parents will kill me!”
5. Get to know your child’s friends and their parents on first name terms.
This is crucial. It puts you in a much better position of control and communication. If you don’t come across their friends regularly at the school gate, have a pizza party and invite them home. This will help you to get a real feel for who is having the most influence on your child.
6. Be a good role model.
Don’t use drugs yourself. Don’t leave your prescription medicines lying around, and never swap medicines or let your kids have yours if they run out. There continue to be more kids poisoned by adult prescription drugs. Keep a watchful eye on your own quantities of medication: it’s not paranoia, it’s being responsible.
7. Adjust your parenting style.
Teenagers are very sensitive and can be quick to interpret your concern as interfering or aggressive so you may have to adjust your style. For example, being pushy means they’ll be defensive so back off a little, slow down and give them some space. In coaching we use the phrase ‘the law of requisite variety’, which simply means that he who has the greatest behavioural flexibility wins. If you’ve got more communicative options up your sleeve than just your normal default parent mode, then you’ll be able to find one that works with your grumpy adolescent.
Also, cultivate the habit of asking for your child’s opinion regularly – it increases his confidence and sense of self-worth, both of which are vital weapons in his armoury against peer pressure and temptation.
8. Model ways to solve problems, deal with stress, and have fun that don’t involve drugs.
How do you deal with stress? Whatever you do they’re watching you! We know that exercise is a great stress-buster so encourage your child to take up something they enjoy.
Perhaps the most important thing though is to recognise that stress needs to get out, and if we don’t make a healthy way for that to happen it will find an unhealthy one. Be brave, pin your ears back and ask your child to tell it how it is. Allow them to be loud and proud and simply speak the truth. It relieves the pent-up tension, which is potentially toxic, and makes space for some positive energy to take its place. Being honest about things that trouble us is a huge relief, and if you have the courage to do it openly your children will be more likely to do the same.
9. Be involved in your kids’ lives.
Do something with them every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes. As the American pianist Michael Levine says, “Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.” You’ve got to climb up that tree-house, listen to that music or go to that match because that’s your child’s world and you need to be part of it.
10. Eat dinner together regularly!
In September 2011 a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University showed that children who ate dinner with their family on a regular basis were less likely to engage in substance abuse than those who did not. The only secret ingredient, however, was the opportunity to engage with family members and discuss the day’s events. It gave parents the opportunity to catch up with their children’s activities and talk through any difficulties they were facing. Most of the children said it was this opportunity to talk that mattered most to them. It acted as an anchor and was an expression of their parents’ love. They had the security of returning each night to a home where a meal was prepared for them and someone was ready and willing to listen. This stuff you just cannot buy!
This is a short extract from ‘Unlock the Cage: Empowering parents to step out of fear into freedom’. Read more at Unlock the Cage on Amazon.com