Research shows that parents are the number-one influence in their children's world.
Raising children can be one of life's most rewarding experiences. It can also be very frustrating when things don't go quite right, especially as your children reach adolescence. But remember, as a parent, you are the single most influential person in your children's lives. This booklet is a brief guide designed to help you understand your kids as well as identify your roles and responsibilities as a parent.
Understanding your children's world.
Today, children must learn to grow into adulthood in a world that's very different from the one their parents knew as children. It's a complex world where the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs flourish. Where thousands of television, movie and music images bombard children's imaginations with positive and negative messages about drugs on a daily basis.
It's a world where our children's language, actions and attitudes often seem foreign, confusing and, at times, contradictory. For example, these young adults want to fit in with a group, but at the same time, they want to be individuals. They also resent being categorically lumped into the group of "every child is doing drugs"--especially if they are not involved!
Children see their options in terms of how a choice affects their popularity, their freedom and their limits now--today. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Not for the rest of their lives.
Kids see themselves as being invincible, as if nothing bad will happen to them. They don't recognize the risks of getting sick or addicted. They don't worry about their health. They're just trying to satisfy their own needs in relation to their own world.
They're often willing to experiment, as long as they don't get caught. That would affect their freedom.
They don't judge others. It's a live-and-let-live world. "Whatever" is their motto in life, so peer pressure is less direct. Consequently, when children try alcohol, tobacco or other drugs, it's their way of trying to "fit in" more with certain groups.
Children develop different needs, particularly as they approach adolescence and adulthood. They need to fit in with peers. They're curious. They question everything, even authority. They need to feel grown up, to be independent and able to make their own decisions--like whether or not to smoke, drink or use other drugs. On the other hand, their needs often contradict themselves, and they need to have someone who really cares to turn to on important issues. More often than not, that someone is a parent.
In fact, according to numerous studies nationwide and in South Carolina, adolescent children say that their parents are the strongest single influence in their lives. The fear of disappointing a parent is often the biggest deterrent to risky behaviors.
Boy, what a relief! And what an awesome responsibility! As a parent, you do count. But, it's up to parents to learn how to communicate effectively. This starts by learning about some of the things that put your kids at risk of using alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, as well as some of the factors that can protect them from getting involved with these substances.
The use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs can seldom be attributed to one cause. Instead, there are usually a number of factors present, some that relate to usage (risk factors) and others that act as buffers to such use (protective factors).
The risk factors.
Research has revealed a clear set of risk factors that occur more often among individuals who develop problems with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
These risk factors can be grouped into four major areas of life: (1) family; (2) community; (3) school; and (4) individual/peer. Following are some risk factors that fall within each of these four categories.
The protective factors.
Research has identified the following factors that are considered to be protective in nature. Interestingly, the first two are the only two factors that can be influenced by specific actions of individuals, families and communities. The remaining factors are personal characteristics or attributes that are inherent in the individual and are considered to be difficult or impossible to change, yet they too play a significant role in protecting an individual from problems.
Now that you have a better understanding of the factors that place your children at risk, you may need some advice on how to handle the complexities of warding off the alcohol, tobacco and other drug demons. There are two approaches to dealing with this problem.
First, you must learn to communicate with your children, and second, you must get involved in your children's world at home, at school and in the community.
In general, build trust and establish open lines of communication early.
Children don't care what you know until they know you care.
So building trust is essential to communication. But it cannot be done overnight. It is a process, not an event. It's actions and words--kids can spot hypocrisy a mile away. It's setting an example and setting limits. It's listening, respecting, validating and empowering a youngster. It's fostering a positive self-image. It's being involved and showing that you care.
This process must start early, because children are impressionable about smoking and drinking as early as nine years of age.
Use "learning moments."
Kids don't like to be lectured. It's a "turn-off." But they do want to be able to talk about important issues with you, just not in a forced manner.
Know what you're talking about and use brief "learning moments" to make your points. Longer, more in-depth conversations may develop later.
Set an example for your kids.
What you say and what you do must be consistent. Children of smokers and drinkers are much more likely to smoke and drink. Parents who keep large amounts of alcohol in the home often unwittingly invite use by their children and their friends.
Children who "help" their parents drink by bringing them beer or pouring them drinks typically will drink more outside the home than other children and will experience more problems related to their drinking. So, too, will children whose parents allow them to drink in the home.
Be informed and give your children the facts about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in a straightforward, unemotional manner. Scare tactics and exaggerated stories don't work. Your kids see and hear a lot about these subjects at school and other places. Every day, they see. "Just Say No" and D.A.R.E. anti-drug messages in their classrooms, and they see other kids in the halls and on the playground who use drugs. So, in their own minds, kids see firsthand what's true and what's not.
State your position.
As a parent, you are the authority figure. Be consistent. Then make sure you let your children know where you stand and what your expectations are regarding their use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs; their involvement in crime; and their attendance in school. Set curfews. Make the rules and stick to them. Learn to say "no" without apologizing. Avoid harsh punishment. Also, anticipate some of the obvious questions your children may ask and be prepared to answer them.
Be a good parent.
Build self-esteem in your children through positive reinforcement and open communication about all things. Get involved in your children's activities. Encourage sound.decision-making as your children learn to become responsible young adults. But remember that positive self-esteem does not make your kids better than other kids or make them invulnerable to the risks of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
Know your children's friends.
Although parents are the final authority in many cases, your children's friends have a lot of power to shape your children's points of view and their opinions. If possible, get to know the parents of these other children and stay in touch with them. That way, you'll be able to compare notes about things that work and things that don't. You'll also be able to find out if "Johnny's" parents are really going to be home for the party, and not out of town.
Don't allow your children to have friends over without your permission, and don't allow your children to go to a friend's home without your permission.
Get help if you need it.
Sometimes, even the best intentions don't work for parents.
If you notice a dramatic change in your child's behavior, you should be concerned about it and seek help. Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs could be involved. Get in touch with a parent support group. Attend parent education programs. Seek advice from your physician or other helping professional. Or get help for a problem by contacting your county alcohol and drug abuse authority.
Fact: Underage drinking is against the law. If parents serve alcohol to underage children other than their own, they are breaking the law and are liable.
Fact: It is against the law for anyone to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18.
Fact: Alcohol and tobacco kill more Americans each year than illicit drugs, car accidents, fires, AIDS, homicides and suicides combined.
Fact: Alcohol and tobacco are "gateway" drugs, meaning that young people who are willing to break the first barrier and smoke are more likely to drink, and young people who drink are more likely to try marijuana and other drugs. Although there is an obvious progression here, parents need to know that the term "gateway" can be misleading. Even though alcohol and tobacco are often the first drugs used by kids today, these drugs are responsible for more injuries and deaths than all other drugs combined. So, the term "gateway" should not be perceived as meaning "lower risk."
Children need the love, support and guidance of parents throughout their lives. They need to know you care; they need a mentor. Get involved in your children's world, not only at home but in the school and community, too. Understand your children's struggles, support them, and do all that you can to discourage their use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
It all starts in the home.
To emphasize parental attitudes that discourage involvement in crime and alcohol, tobacco and other drug use:
To combat the availability of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs:
To combat and prevent lack of commitment to school:
By now you may be wondering whether you even need to talk to your child. Is the problem really that bad? One look at the following information should convince you that talking to your child about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs is one of the most important things you will ever do.
The extent of the problem.
More than 310,000 South Carolinians are currently experiencing problems with alcohol and other drugs that warrant intervention and treatment. More than 55,000 of these individuals are between the ages of 12 and 17. Following are just a few examples of the wide range of problems associated with alcohol and other drug abuse in this state:
Unfortunately, alcohol and other drug problems affect South Carolinians of all ages and from all walks of life. But the good news is that these problems are both preventable and treatable. The key ingredient, of course, is understanding. Understanding the nature of the problem. Understanding what you as a parent can do to prevent it. And understanding what you can do to get help if a problem arises.
Armed with essential knowledge, you have tremendous power in your children's world. So talk to your kids about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. It could very well change their lives forever.
Where do you go from here?
South Carolina provides numerous resources at both the state and local levels to prevent and treat problems related to the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
If you need more information...
The South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS) operates THE DRUGSTORE Information Clearinghouse, a resource library of printed and audiovisual materials that includes a wealth of information on this topic, including brochures, fact sheets and more.
The department also operates a statewide toll-free telephone line that you can call for answers to your specific questions about alcohol, tobacco and other drug abuse, as well as where you can get information about local prevention and treatment services available in your community.
For more information, call our toll-free number at 1-800-942-DIAL or visit our web site at www.scprevents.org.
If someone you know needs help...
A variety of services are available in every county of the state for anyone who needs them. Services are tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual and/or family. Services are provided by a statewide system of county alcohol and drug abuse authorities, all of which are nationally accredited.
Following is a listing of the county authorities. These local agencies are there to help your family and your community address a wide range of problems. For more information about the specific services available in your community, contact your county authority.