If you read anything in the news about drugs and addiction, the stories are usually bleak. More young people are abusing prescription drugs and a heroin epidemic, along with overdose deaths, is sweeping the country. Raising kids in this drug culture is daunting. How do you protect your children and raise them to be free of the bonds of drug abuse and addiction? The truth is that you can do your best and still have a child that turns to drugs. But with the right tools and strategies, you can give your children the best chance of living a drug-free life:
- Connect — and stay connected. One of the most important ways you can influence your child is to have a strong relationship. Connect with your child regularly by spending quality time together and by having meaningful conversations. Be a person to whom your child turns in time of need. Be the person your child trusts and with whom he or she feels comfortable talking. Not only will this help you instill positive values, but it will help you get to know your child. A positive relationship with a parent is the most powerful tool in saying “no” to drugs.
- Promote health early. You can start planning early to keep your child drug-free. You don’t have to talk to your toddler about drugs, but you can begin to promote the idea of a healthy lifestyle. Teach your child about the benefits of being healthy, eating well, being active and making healthy choices. As your child gets older, you can include discussions of drugs and alcohol.
- Know your child’s friends. As your child grows older, it becomes increasingly important that you know who his or her friends are. The influence of friends gets stronger as your child becomes a preteen and teen. Make sure his or her friends hang out at your house so you can get to know them. And be sure to get to know their parents as well. They may not have the same values that you do.
- Keep busy with healthy activities. Many teens turn to drug use for a very simple reason: boredom. Start early and keep your children involved in healthy and positive activities. They don’t need to be overscheduled (downtime is important, too) but make sure they have meaningful things to do. Get them involved in sports, church groups, volunteer projects or art classes.
- Promote self– A child is more likely to give into peer pressure if he or she has low self-esteem. Make your child feel special and make sure he knows that he or she has talents and self-worth. You don’t need to overpraise or turn him or her into an arrogant monster, but he or she should know that they’re valued and loved for the person they are.
- Talk about drugs. When the time is right, talk to your child about drugs. Educate yourself first and stick to the facts. Use facts rather than fear to demonstrate the reality of drug abuse and addiction. Also include a discussion about your expectations, rules and consequences about drug use in your family. Make it clear that experimentation will not be tolerated.
Although it’s hard to believe during the teenage years, parents are the biggest influence in a child’s life. No matter who else out there is influencing your child — including teachers, friends, media and others — you are the most important source of information and values. You have the power to shape your child’s attitude, beliefs, values and actions. Start early to help your child make the right choices to stay drug-free.