To a certain extent you can never be absolutely sure. As you must realize, drug abuse is so widespread in our culture that you cannot expect to isolate your kids from exposure to it. Not completely. You can, however, take specific steps to reduce the likelihood that they will come into personal contact with drugs. There are also some things you can do to build up their immunity to using them. These measures should be ongoing, deliberate, and proactive.
- The first and most important thing you can do is model good behavior. If you smoke, your kids are much more likely to do the same (but remember that it’s never too late to quit). If you consume alcohol at home, think carefully about how you use it and the role it plays in the life of your family. You should also be aware of the contents of your medicine cabinet. Have you accumulated prescription narcotics and tranquilizers that you use freely when the going gets tough? If so, keep in mind that kids aren’t blind. If they see the adults around them frequently taking “legitimate” drugs to dull their pain, they’ll be more likely to use their own drugs of choice when they’re dealing with similar difficulties.
- The second step is to build drug-resistant attitudes. This is an ongoing project, beginning during the first years of your child’s life, and it can include such elements as the following:
- Create an environment that consistently balances love and limits. Kids who know they are loved unconditionally are less likely to seek “pain relief” through drugs. Those who have learned to live within appropriate boundaries will have better impulse control and self-discipline.
- Instill respect and awe for the God-given gift of a body and mind – even one that isn’t perfect.
- Help your children become students of consequences. Talk about good and bad choices. “Just say no” is a fine motto, but understanding why it’s wrong to use harmful substances will build more solid resistance.
- Build a positive sense of identity with your family. A strong feeling of belonging to a loving family builds accountability and helps prevent loneliness.
- Encourage church-related activities that build a meaningful personal faith. A vibrant faith reinforces the concept that the future is worth protecting, stabilizes the emotions during turbulent years, and provides a healthy response to the aches and pains of life.
- Third, make it a point to talk with your kids about drug abuse. Start talking early, and keep it up throughout their growing years. Bear in mind that experimentation with drugs and alcohol commonly begins during the grade-school years. Be ready to offer thoughtful and constructive commentary when you and your child see someone smoking or drinking, whether in real life or a movie, and make an effort to stay one step ahead of your children’s knowledge of the drug scene. If you hear about an athlete, rock star, or celebrity who uses drugs, be certain that everyone in the family understands that no amount of fame or fortune excuses this behavior. Be aware of current trends in your community. Look for local meetings or lectures where drug abuse is being discussed. And stay available to have these conversations with your kids when they need them.
- Fourth, seek out trustworthy adults who can come alongside you in this process. Don’t blindly assume that the presence of a grown-up guarantees a safe environment. Get to know the parents of your children’s friends. Make certain your child knows you will pick him up anytime, anywhere – no questions asked – if he finds himself in a situation where drugs or alcohol are being used. And be sure to praise him if he follows through.
- Fifth, don’t be afraid to confront when necessary. Remember that drug abuse spreads from person to person. If your kids have friends or acquaintances who are using alcohol or drugs, put restrictions on those relationships. Keep track of who is influencing whom.
- Sixth, take steps to create consequences for unacceptable behavior. Warnings and lectures aren’t enough. You can do a more effective job of convincing your teens that the use of cigarettes, alcohol or illegal drugs is a very serious matter by establishing appropriate penalties for clear violations of the rules. A heart-to-heart conversation would probably be sufficient for a first-time offense. But if your warnings repeatedly go unheeded, you will need to move on to something more substantial – for example, loss of driving, dating, or even phone privileges for an extended period of time.
- Finally, remember that even in families that hold strong values and practice ongoing drug-proofing, there are no guarantees that substance abuse won’t affect one or more of the children. So if a problem arises, face it squarely. Resist the temptation to deny it or ignore it. And whatever you do, don’t blame yourself. If you feel responsible for what has happened, confess your faults to God and your family. Then get on with the task of helping your child. There’s nothing to be gained by wallowing in guilt.
If you need more information about the dangers of drug abuse, please feel free to get in touch with Focus on the Family’s Counseling department. Our trained counselors would be more than happy to speak with you over the phone for a free consultation.
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