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
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