'Just Say No' Isn't Enough
Discussing drugs with kids? Start early and keep talking.
April 17, 2000 (Bethesda, Md.) -- Before her children reached their teens,
Barbara Basham, 52, watched for opportunities to teach them about the dangers
of drugs. A news story about a celebrity arrested for drunk driving, a
television show featuring a character hospitalized for substance abuse, became,
as she puts it, teachable moments.
"There are a ton of opportunities to talk to your children about drugs
if you look for them. We just integrated the discussions into our daily
lives," says Basham, a financial consultant in Vallejo, Calif. Basham and
her husband Jeff, 52 and retired, also taught by example. "There are no
drugs in this house and we have only an occasional glass of wine or beer,"
she says. "You can't be a hypocrite. Children can detect that
Basham instinctively believed what recent research has confirmed: Parents
can play a major role in helping their children avoid drug and alcohol abuse.
By starting early, talking openly, and setting a good example, she did what she
could to guide her two children through the turmoil of adolescence.
It wasn't easy, and the Bashams, like most families these days, had their
work cut out for them. According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America,
80% of 12th graders have tried alcohol, and 41% of 13- to 18-year-olds have
tried marijuana. But unlike many of their peers, the Basham children did not
experiment with drugs. Their mother's advice to other parents? Start early, and
How Parents Can Make a Difference
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University
(CASA) found in a 1999 study that teens who live in homes where parents talk to
them frequently about the dangers of using drugs are less likely to use drugs
even when they are readily available at school. Over 40% of teens who never
smoked marijuana say they resisted because of their parents' influence.
"These findings are very, very significant. They say that parents can
have a positive influence on their kids," says Alyse Booth, who oversees
the CASA study on teen attitudes toward drugs.
Still, the overwhelming majority of teens say that they are not learning
about drugs at home. According to a 1998 study by the Partnership for a
Drug-Free America, virtually all parents reported talking with their teenagers
about drugs at least once. But, significantly, nearly two-thirds of the
teenagers couldn't recall even one conversation on that subject.
Howard Simon, a spokesman for the Partnership, says, "You can't have a
single conversation and think the job is done. You have to have an ongoing
dialogue. It's like advertising: One message doesn't get through. Advertisers
know they have to run the message time and again and present it in different
ways to get it across."