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Raising drug-free kids

When it comes to helping kids steer clear of drugs, a parent's positive influence, involvement and support can make a world of difference.

Drugs are every parent's concern.

Be they illicit substances, like cocaine or methamphetamine, or abused prescription or over-the-counter medications, drugs pose a risk to children from all walks of life.

It's also true that parents have the power to influence the choices children make—including decisions about drugs, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). For starters, parents can cut their kids' risk of drug use just by teaching them about the dangers.

Prevention starts early

Even before your kids can digest complex facts, you can prepare them for a drug-free future, according to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. For example, preschoolers can learn the importance of healthy foods and putting only healthy things in their bodies. Also, you can explain that prescription drugs can help those they're meant for but can harm other people.

You'll want to tailor your messages to your child's age, of course. Before children enter middle school—when the risk for drug use rises—they should know the consequences of drug use, including the health effects and damage it causes families.

What parents can do

SAMHSA and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids offer parents these suggestions for helping keep their kids drug-free:

Open a dialogue. Talking to your child every day about what's happening in his or her life strengthens your relationship and helps you understand your child better. This can make it easier to guide him or her toward positive activities and friendships, according to SAMHSA. It also makes it easier for your child to come to you for advice—for example, if he or she is offered drugs.

Boost self-esteem. Practice praise and avoid negative criticism. Kids who feel good about themselves are well-equipped to make good choices regardless of what their peers think.

Help kids choose friends wisely. Kids are less likely to use drugs if they have drug-free friends.

Give ideas on what to say if offered drugs. An effective response can be as simple as, "No thanks."

Set rules and expectations. Research shows that kids are less likely to use drugs when parents set clear rules and enforce them. Experts offer these tips:

  • State clearly that drugs aren't allowed, because you love your child and don't want him or her to get hurt.
  • Talk about family values. Children faced with decisions about whether to use drugs often factor in what their parents would think.
  • Be a good example. Your decision not to use drugs—and your attitudes toward them—are behaviors your kids can model.

Know what's up. Monitoring kids—knowing where they are, what they're doing and whom they're with—is especially important during after-school hours, when risky business is most likely to occur. Here are some tips:

  • Make it clear that you're asking questions out of love and concern, not distrust.
  • Get to know your child's friends and their parents.
  • If you or a trusted adult can't be with your child, encourage your child to join a supervised program, such as sports or community or faith-based activities.

Arm yourself with knowledge. To learn some facts about drugs, visit drugabuse.gov/parents-educators.

reviewed 11/18/2019

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