Making Sure Kids Get the Message
Communication Is Key
"A lot of parents who smoke, for example, are afraid to discuss the issue with their kids," says Gordon, who is researching adolescent tobacco use. "You need to get up there and say, 'I smoke. I wish I didn't. These are the problems I'm having. I'm addicted and can't stop. I really wish you never have to go through what I went through.'"
Outlining a family policy on drug and alcohol use, detailing for children what is forbidden and what the consequences of breaking the contract will be, is a good place to start. Gordon recommends setting up a reward system to encourage your children from avoiding such behaviors. "The idea of early on discussing your goals, your expectations, your hopes for your child and involving your child in a dialogue with you is important across the board," she says.
And the earlier the better: Once your child hits the teenage years, peer influence often takes on greater meaning than parental input. "Eight to 12 is when kids are starting to think about these issues, and when their parents have more influence on them," says Kristie Wang, communications director at Children Now, a national child advocacy organization based in California. "If those communication channels are not already in place, it will become really awkward to bring it up."
As part of its Talking with Kids about Tough Issues campaign, Children Now encourages parents to listen, build self-esteem, encourage choice, be a good example, and repeat the message. Another way to teach your children to handle difficult choices is through role-playing, Wang says: "It's a good way for parents to really present to their kids exactly how they can turn down drugs and really show the kids exactly how they can communicate in those situations."
Parents also should work with their communities to provide adult-supervised activities like skateboarding contests to lure children to positive environments, Gordon says. Activities involving music, family, sports, friends, and dancing keep children busy and away from drugs, according to children responding to the government's antidrug campaign.
"Most of the people you see drinking and smoking pot are the people who don't have anything else to do," says Shola Olorunnipa, a 17-year-old from Tallahassee who uses performing arts to encourage his peers to remain drug free. "Find something that you like, that you are involved in -- like for me it's singing or dancing -- and make that what occupies your time."