Chapter 7

How Do I Protect My Child From Drugs?

This is the important follow-up to Chapter 6: Why Do Some Kids Use Drugs? Here we offer suggestions for how parents can decrease those “risk” factors that can influence young people to use drugs. We also focus on how you can encourage protective factors and help your child to make healthy choices and decisions to promote his or her safety and well-being.

Even though it is impossible to control everything to ensure full and complete protection from drugs, prevention-smart parents can work to add as many protections as possible to a child's life and to the entire family.

Building Protective Strengths and Assets Works!

For some parents, life may have seemed simpler during their teenage years compared to what are faced by youth today particularly given the changes in technology, media and in terms of what we perceive to be different attitudes and behavior. Yes, your generation had drugs, alcohol, pre-marital sex, violence, and school drop-outs, but the current generation has all of those plus new concerns, including some that require more adult supervision. Many families have both parents at work, and that means that many children spend more hours without adult care and supervision. Also, for various reasons, there may be an overall attitude by many adults that youth today are more mature than they used to be and therefore need less supervision. I wonder if this is true? What do you think?

The reality is that our children and teenagers still need parents to be there for them.

Youth still need adults in their lives to be present, reliable, and consistent in what they say and do. This is the solid foundation for growth and development. These qualities form the basis for good relationships and communication between parent and child. This strong bond between a child and his or her parent is a key “foundation stone”, tool (or asset) to helping youth deal with stresses and challenges they experience as they grow up. And prevention-smart parents can also help create and support many other tools or assets.

Helping build more protection for your child

Protective assets (or protective factors) are life tools or resources that help a person person stay safe and healthy, and allow them to become a successful adult and a contributing member of a community. Think of assets as something that give you an advantage or edge in a competition or challenging situation. For example, in a game of football having quick feet and good vision of the playing field may give you an advantage over players with less of these skills. In the classroom, a student may do better on an exam because he or she had learnt the need to study, having enough sleep the night before, eating breakfast, and not getting into a fight on the way to school.

Protective assets reside within a person: For example, it can be a characteristic like having a good sense of humor, or being calm and showing leadership during difficult situations. Assets may be located in the environment, such as in the home where a parent pays close attention to the health and well-being of a child; or a school where teachers encourage and support students’ positive efforts to achieve. Also, assets are found in communities, churches, temples, mosques, etc., neighborhoods or communities where caring adults are supportive of youth’s health and safety. The challenge is to help our children identify, access and use these assets.

 Creating assets does not require moneyCreating and applying assets does not require money. What they typically require is the time and commitment of caring adults and friends who support, encourage and guide youth. Parents play a key role, but everyone in the youth community (that can be school, religious group, sports teams, workplace, homes of friends and relatives) can contribute by making the personal commitment to support youth in making positive behavior choices that help protect against irresponsible drug use and other negative health and social behaviors.

One major source of assets for your child is you, being a prevention-smart parent when communicating with your child and being effective with care and discipline. This category of assets is so important that we devote the next chapter to this topic.

Prevention-Smart Protection

Over the next few pages are key protective assets that can help keep your child free from drugs. We have divided these into the following 6 categories:

  1. Prevention-Smart Families

  2. Prevention-Smart at School

  3. Prevention-Smart Communities

  4. Prevention-Smart Relationships

  5. Prevention-Smart Values

  6. Prevention-Smart Child Confidence

It would be impossible for a person or family to have all of these assets. Think of the list as a way to identify assets you and your child already have, and as a way to identify areas where you and your child can work together to create an even healthier and safer family.

Prevention-Smart Families

Think about how you would rate yourself out of 10 in the following areas.

Family support

Provide high levels of love and support.

Use words, actions, and attitudes that show you love and care about everyone in the family.

Positive family communication

Encourage your child to seek help and advice from you.

Be a good listener and encourage your child to offer points of view.

Model good communication by communicating in a positive way between parents.

Family boundaries

It is important that you establish clear family “rules” and consequences of breaking them that are known and respected by all members. Write down the rules and consequences and discuss them together as a family. Where possible, develop the rules in discussion with your children so they can appreciate the reasons for the rules and be part of making and agreeing them. Get them to think about “terms and conditions” rather than rules.

As a prevention-smart parent, monitor the young person's whereabouts as far as possible. Also tell your child your whereabouts.

Time at home Mentor Family watching TV together

Encourage your child to spend time at home with the family and be involved in family evening activities when not doing homework.

If a parent is working or must be away from the home during this time, try to arrange to have another trustworthy adult check in on your child. If this is not possible, see if you can arrange for your child to attend a supervised activity center, library, or other place such as the home of a trusted adult where he or she can use the time to study or socialize in a safe setting with people you trust.

It is not an asset to have your child out a lot of the time with peers "with nothing special to do."

Reading or Viewing For Pleasure

Promote reading or viewing for pleasure to fill your child’s unscheduled time. You can encourage this when you read books, newspapers and watch TV and discuss this together. Discuss what you read and view during family time, and ask your child to talk about what he or she is reading or enjoys watching. Exchange books and DVDs with other families. You might even ask your child to read a book to you or read one to them. Watch TV together and discuss what you watch.

Family Activities

Plan ‘family night’ activities; include a night or weekend afternoon going shopping eg for the “food shop” at the supermarket or going to a sports game together or for a walk or to the gym or doing exercise.

Prevention-Smart at School

Think about your marks out of 10 in this section too:

Parent involvement in schooling

Parents need to be actively involved in helping youth succeed in school. This means rewarding your child for doing homework, getting enough sleep, eating breakfast, etc. Of course, high marks or grades can always be rewarded. Remember success does not mean being top of the class but achieving what they are capable of and trying hard.

Parents can also support their child’s school performance by showing interest in school activities. Examples of this are helping in the classroom, at parent-teacher meetings or with activities such as music performances or sports clubs.

If a parent is unable to attend these activities, they can ask teachers how they can help out in other ways; for example making phone calls to other parents, helping with errands for an after-school club attending and supporting school sports or other activities.

School boundaries

Support your school’s efforts to provide clear rules and consequences. Make sure you know what these are, and reinforce them with your child.

School engagement

Promote your child’s engagement in learning. Make sure your child gets to school on-time, and encourage them to participate fully in classes.

Make a habit of asking questions about what happens at school, on the bus, in extra-school activities, and what they like about their teachers.

Reward your child when he or she makes extra effort, gets a good report, high marks or grades, completes homework on time, works hard on special school projects.

Review homework with your child. Be available to help with homework. Reward your child for taking homework seriously.

Respond to any problems your child shares about school or teachers. Involve them in any action you feel you should take to help them.

Home-school links

Encourage your child to care about her or his school and to feel good about school. You can help by attending school activities, talking about school achievements.

Prevention-Smart Communities

Think about the 1 to 10 scale!

Caring neighborhood and communities

Youth may benefit from the family’s involvement with neighbors. If the neighborhood a child lives in is dangerous, you can turn to support from other communities where the child is a participant; such as religious organizations; ethnic or cultural groups; or special interest groups such as sport or performing arts clubs.

Encourage your child to be part of your efforts to develop healthy relationships with neighbors or community members.

Make sure your child recognizes and knows the names of trustworthy neighbors whom they can ask for help if needed. Also your child can help neighbors with simple jobs, such as carrying groceries up a flight of stairs or reaching a high shelf, posting letters, or moving furniture.

Have conversations with youth about what neighbors are doing. Encourage them to have a sense of concern for them, or to develop awareness of personal safety issues if the immediate neighborhood is not safe. Talk about changes or events that are occurring in the neighborhood.

Community that values youth

Youth benefit from knowing that a community supports the health and well-being of young people.

When parents and other adults are active in a community’s youth activities, it shows that they value youth. Examples of this are volunteering as sports coaches, activity leaders, after-school program leaders, and helping the community.

Youth gives service to others

Encourage your child to contribute to other people. Giving an hour or two each week to help out with a project contributes to personal satisfaction and a sense of community membership.

Many schools offer supervised structured volunteer opportunities for students during after-school hours.

There is also the possibility of encouraging them to help in their own community.

Creative activities

Regular involvement in artistic activities, such as art, music, theater, etc., can help your child acquire skills and can encourage them to use their free time in positive ways.

These activities can be modest in scope, i.e., they don’t have to be classes at an art academy or a professional theater. Try to rely on community resources for creative activity programming to provide easy access for youth. More formal programs / classes can be useful when a child shows continued interest or expresses interest in advanced levels of involvement.

Sports and Youth programs

Regular involvement in organized group activities that are supervised by adults promote asset-building. Examples include participating in sports, clubs, and organizations at school and in the community.

Not all young people enjoy sport or are good at it so try and find something your child enjoys and where they experience achievement and enjoyment.

Religious community

If consistent with your values, promote your child’s participation in church, temple, or mosque, and related religious activities.

Prevention-Smart Relationships

Positive peer influence

Try to get to know your child’s best friends. Encourage your child to invite friends to your home. Observe if these friends consistently show responsible behaviors and choices and if not discuss this with your child as an item of concern.

Try to get to know the parents of your child’s best friends. Share your views with them about the importance of protecting young people from drug use.

If you believe your child’s friends are using drugs, tell your teenager that you do not approve and why. Do not encourage activities where you know your child will be with these friends.

Other adult relationships

It is important for a young person to receive support from other non-parent adults, and for other “important people” to be in their lives who are available for help with questions or problems.

These can be aunts/uncles, step-parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, caregivers, teachers, coaches, mentors, religious leaders, neighbors; anyone who will provide a positive role model that supports a healthy lifestyle including their behavior with respect to drugs.

Interpersonal competence

Help your child with skills that promote making and keeping friends. Skills important for this are having empathy for another person’s feelings, being sensitive to others’ needs and helping a friend with a favor when appropriate.

Cultural competence

Encourage your child to have friends and be friendly with people of different social, ethnic, and racial backgrounds than his or her own.

You can model this valuable principle by developing relationships with adults from different backgrounds.

Peaceful conflict resolution

Encourage your child to solve problems in non-violent ways and to avoid conflicts that can escalate into a very dangerous problem. When you are resolving a conflict with your child, negotiate different solutions and avoid using aggressive language.

Prevention-Smart Values

Do the 1-10 scale for yourself!

Equality and social justice

Promote awareness that we all need to have social responsibility. Emphasize the value of helping others who suffer from inequalities, poverty, hunger, handicaps and loneliness.

Integrity

Support your child’s efforts to have confidence to say what he or she believes and to protect these beliefs.

Seek opinions from your child, and take time to listen to your child’s thoughts about things that matter to him or her. Even topics like bad calls in a football match, or witnessing others’ rude behavior can be a good opportunity for your child to sort out concepts like fairness or responsibility.

Honesty

Encourage your children to tell the truth even when a lie would be easier. Use real-life examples from the family, your past or from the media as lessons about the importance of honesty.

Responsibility

Promote the importance of your child showing respect and regard for his or her own family and property.

Restraint

Discuss with your child, before he or she reaches the teenage years, the importance of choosing to not use alcohol and other drugs and for choosing health by respecting his body and respecting others.

During your child’s teenager years, reinforce this policy, but also tell them about responsible use. Have a conversation about why people usually use these substances and why these substances can be harmful. Be open to answer their doubts. Provide them with the necessary information to make healthy and responsible decisions.

If your teenager is already using drugs, do not ignore this.

Prevention-Smart Child Confidence

Safety

It is vital to make your child feel safe at home, at school, and in the neighborhood. Not having to worry about crime or criminal behavior in the neighborhood, school, or at home helps youth feel secure about his or her life and future. Even if you cannot completely eliminate unsafe conditions, support your community’s efforts to curb crime. Push your school to maximize school safety.

Educate your child about the dangers of misuse of medicines and irresponsible alcohol and other drug use.

High expectations

Encourage your child to work and try hard in school, extra-school activities, and hobbies. Support these efforts as much as you can.

Also reward behaviors that promote motivation, such as waking up on time for school; keeping his or her room or space organized; caring about personal hygiene; seeking approval and validation for work on school projects.

Rewards can be praise or take other forms and not always mean money!

Self-esteem

Reinforce the importance that your child act in ways and make decisions in life that promotes a positive self-esteem (feeling good about oneself).

Discuss specific ways of doing this, such as speaking loud enough to be heard and being assertive (not aggressive!), having good posture, making eye-contact when talking to adults and others, and interacting with people of all ages.

Also, encourage your child to strive to achieve and reward him or her for putting in the effort and avoid being concerned with the outcome.

Resistance skills

Part of being a good parent is to teach your child a core asset skill: how to resist negative peer pressure and dangerous situations.

Talk to him or her about the importance of recognizing and resisting negative peer pressure and potentially dangerous situations. Remind your child that it is okay to say to friends “this is not for me” and to walk away from unhealthy and dangerous situations.

Sense of purpose

Encourage youth to think about and express interest in their future life. This can help them recognize that "my life has a purpose." Having a purpose in life is a powerful feeling for all people.

When youth talk about the future in positive ways, such as telling you about specific goals or pathways to achieving goals, they are showing that they believe in themselves and their plans for a happy and successful life.

Planning and decision making

Help your child develop skills for how to plan ahead, set personal goals, to make healthy choices, and to organize his or her daily life. Tell your child about your own goals and how you plan to achieve them.

If needed, help your child get in the habit of using these skills by writing down goals, plans and choices.

Positive view of personal future

Encourage your child to think of his or her future in positive ways. Have him or her tell you what excites him or her about the future.

Do not worry if plans change often; encourage the pursuit of working towards future achievements.

Your child and Driving

Handing over the car keys to your young driver is one of the most difficult things you'll ever do as a parent. In many countries, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death of teenagers. In the United States, it accounts for nearly half of teenage fatalities.

How can you make your teenager a safe driver after they begin to drive? During the first few months of your teenager's driving, do your best to restrict the presence of other young people in the car. Many teenagers may drive safely when their parents are in the car, but crash rates increase dramatically when parents are not present.

Your Family and Assets

Complete the checklist below about assets or resources that you see are part of your family and your teenager’s life. See how many assets you can identify that were present during the past 3 months.

During the past 3 months, my teenager...

During the past 3 months, I...

That's a long list! If we do everything on the list we are probably “super parent” or telling a few untruths!

There is no “magic” number of assets for a family. But the more the better.

For the assets that you answered “yes” – keep up the good work!

See if you can make some of the other assets part of your family over the next few months.

Influences on Your Child

On your own, with members of the family, friends or with your child:

  • Make a list of all the influences that you think are on your children and their effect on how they think, feel and behave.

  • List them in terms of which you feel are most important and have most impact and add what you think the impact is – positive or negative.

  • Now thinking of the list of prevention-smart protections, write or discuss what you can do to encourage the positive influences and counter the negative ones.

  • Discuss this exercise with your partner or friends and then with your children.

How Do I Protect My Child From Drugs?

Mentor Boy in protective gear Remember, teenagers do not grow up in isolation; they are influenced by all that happens around them. Family and parents remain an important influence in the lives of teens. Teachers also expect added responsibility and are asked to push student performance in increasingly complex academic subject matter.

The surrounding community views teens in different and various ways – they may be seen as a nuisance, “louts” and a challenge to some, but to others they are seen as helpful to the well-being of the community through their participation in community activities, charity organizations, events or through helping the less fortunate. Most do have a general sense of wanting to help. They love to help and feel wanted and needed. The community attitude and expectations has an effect on them.

When you consider all the potential factors that influence a teen’s life, it is easy to understand the importance of him or her being able to make wise and healthy choices. Most will chose well. Some will chose poorly but recover and get back on their feet, while others will chose poorly and develop a life that is caught up in risk taking. Drug and alcohol use would be such a choice if youth do not have the benefit of support from parents and family, teachers and other significant adults, and from communities. It is easy to see that prevention must become a way of life; and developing assets can offer the support teens need to make positive choices.

More details on Developmental Assets can be found on the Search Institute and Thrive! websites.

Other websites of interest include:

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