I am a Student Assistance Professional (SAP) providing substance abuse prevention and intervention services at Hoquiam High School and I am also a member of a local coalition named My TOWN. Recently we have started a marketing campaign advocating for parents to “Bring IT Up.” Studies have shown that when parents talk to their kids about drugs (including alcohol) and encourage antidrug behavior underage use goes down.
In the short time that I have been working as a SAP, I have observed the devastating impact on our youth’s school performance, behavior, and overall well-being that drugs can cause. I can also appreciate that it can be difficult for parents to know when the most appropriate time to talk to their kids about drugs is.
A child’s transition from elementary school to middle school, calls for special vigilance. Children are much more vulnerable to drugs and other risky behaviors when they move between 5th, 6th and 7th grades than when they are younger.
It is very important to start the dialogue early and continue talking all the way through the teen years. A couple of good resources on how to start a conversation or what to say are: Talk, they hear you at http://beta.samhsa.gov/underage-drinking and Start Talking Now at http://starttalkingnow.org.
Along with talking, it is also recommended that you use the specific actions below to significantly reduce the chance for your child becoming involved with drugs:
• Arrange to have your children looked after or engaged when they are not in school. Encourage them to get involved with youth groups, art, music, sports, community service or academic clubs.
• Be involved in your child’s life. Attend their events and school functions.
• Make sure that you have a clear family policy on no drug use. Set standards and stick by them; clearly communicate your rules on no alcohol/drug use. Don’t assume that your children know you don’t want them to use drugs.
• Make sure children who are unattended for periods during the day feel your presence. Give them a schedule and set limits on their behavior. Give them household chores to accomplish. Enforce a strict phone-in-to-you policy. Leave notes for them around the house.
• Get to know the parents of your child’s friends. Exchange phone numbers and addresses. Have everyone agree to forbid each other’s children from consuming any drugs, and inform each other if one of you becomes aware of a child who violates this pact.
• Pay attention to your child’s grades and attitudes about school. If there are problems, such as boredom, lack of ability or a mismatch with a teacher — get involved, investigate the problem and work with the school to help your child be successful in that environment.
• Call parents whose home is to be used for a party. Make sure they can assure you that no alcoholic beverages or illegal substances will be dispensed, and don’t be afraid to check out the party yourself.
• Make it easy for your child to leave a place where substances are being used. Discuss in advance how to contact you or another adult in order to get a ride home.
• Expect good behavior. Use consistency in enforcing rules and appropriate boundaries and consequences.
• Set curfews and enforce them.
• Encourage open dialogue with your children about their experiences. Tell your child, “I love you and trust you, but I don’t trust the world around you, and I need to know what’s going on in your life so I can be a good parent to you.”
• Create an atmosphere of love and enjoyment in the family, and have fun as a family.
• Model responsible behavior. Question your own values and attitudes about alcohol and other drugs. If you are using drugs or having a drink, your children are noticing and learning from you.
Some of these actions may seem like common sense, and some may meet with resistance from preteens who are naturally striving to achieve independence from their parents, but all of the measures are critically important in making sure that your child’s life is structured in such a way that drugs have no place in it.
Whether you are a parent, family member, mentor, or friend, it is our responsibility to “Bring IT Up” and keep bringing it up because prevention really does work.
If you have questions or are interested in what you can do to support My TOWN, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Izzy Chavez is a 2008 graduate of Hoquiam High School and a recent graduate of Western Washington University. He is employed by Capital Region ESD 113/True North and is actively involved in supporting students in making good choices at Hoquiam High School and Middle School.