A Parent’s Guide to Prevention (Part 1): It Could Be Your Child

A Parent’s Guide to Prevention (Part 1): Introduction

When most parents talk about drugs, they voice some of their greatest fears and concerns. And their apprehension is well justified:  Drug addiction can destroy your relationships and family life and can harm or even kill you. Unfortunately, as the general public began to feel that the problem had abated and was now manageable, usage began to rise again. A recent study found that four out of ten tenth graders have tried marijuana.

Those of us who grew up during the first wave of drug experimentation knew more about drugs than our parents did. Now we don’t know as much about drugs as our children do. And we certainly don’t know what it feels like to live in our children’s world — a world not only more complex and stressful than it was during our youth, but with a drug culture that never existed before.

Bad Habits Can Start Early

The anti-drug education our children are getting in school today only begins to counter the street-level “education” they pick up from their peers and popular culture. Our children often learn how to use new media faster than we do, and they receive news and entertainment not only from movies and TV, but from DVDs, CDs, billboards, magazines targeted to children, websites, and chat rooms — information sources and formats that didn’t even exist a generation ago. Drug references can reach them in unexpected places, such as magazine ads and clothing-store dressing rooms where music is piped in. Even though these sights and sounds are not usually promoting drug use, they can reinforce a child’s impression that use is “normal” — a standard, even expected, part of growing up.

Unfortunately, the perception that drugs are a normal rite of passage has become common even among children in their preteen years. Many parents of nine-to-twelve year-olds would be shocked to learn how plentiful — and often free — drugs are in their children’s world. The average age at which teens start using tobacco is a little past 12 years old. The average age at which they start drinking alcohol is almost 13. And the average age at which they start smoking marijuana is 14. Although the majority of young people do not use these substances, some children are using at even younger ages than these.

It Could Be Your Child

These statistics are so startling that it’s tempting to think, “My child would never do anything so risky at that age.” But believing that is risky in itself. Studies show that many more teens report being offered drugs — and using them — than their parents are willing to believe. When polled, the number of parents who thought their children had tried marijuana — about 20% — represented only one-half the number of teens who said they had actually tried.

Although keeping a child drug-free through these trying years is a great challenge to a parent, no one is in a better position than you to meet this challenge. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that teenagers who reported feeling close to their families were the least likely to engage in any of the risky behaviors studied, which included drinking and smoking marijuana or cigarettes. This finding supports what a majority of parents believe: that they can teach their children to view drugs as a serious concern and that they can influence their children’s decisions about whether or not to use drugs.

This series will help you guide your children as they form attitudes about drug use. It provides answers to children’s questions as well as sources for help. It covers such important topics as:

  • How to carry on a continuing dialogue with your children on the subject of drugs. Talking frequently is essential, and it’s important to be clear; research found that although nine out of ten parents questioned said that in the past year they had talked to their teens about drugs, only two-thirds of the teens agreed.
  • Why occasional alcohol, tobacco or other drug use is a serious matter. Even a child who may get drunk or high on cocaine less than once a month can suffer serious consequences, such as flunking an important test, having a car accident, or a heart attack.
  • How to educate ourselves. To talk to our children persuasively, we need to have as much information as they do. This guide provides a working knowledge of common drugs — their effects on the mind and body, the symptoms of their use, the latest drug slang, and methods of drug use now in vogue.

The teen years can be trying for families. It is not always easy to communicate with those you love. But the stakes are high. If teens can navigate these years without drinking, smoking, or taking drugs, chances are that they won’t use or abuse these substances as adults. Your influence early on can spare your child the negative experiences associated with illegal drug use, and even save your child’s life.

The Dangers of Marijuana Use

Some parents who saw marijuana being widely used in their youth have wondered, “Is marijuana really so bad for my child?” The answer is an emphatic “yes,” and parents should familiarize themselves with these reasons:

  • Marijuana is illegal.
  • Marijuana now exists in forms that are stronger — with higher levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient — than in the 1960s.
  • Studies show that someone who smokes five joints a week may be taking in as many cancer-causing chemicals as someone who smokes a full pack of cigarettes every day.
  • Hanging around users of marijuana often means being exposed not only to other drugs later on, but also to a lifestyle that can include trouble in school, engaging in sexual activity while young, unintended pregnancy, difficulties with the law, and other problems.
  • Marijuana use can slow down reaction time and distort perceptions. This can interfere with athletic performance, decrease a sense of danger, and increase risk of injury.
  • Regular marijuana users can lose the ability to concentrate that is needed to master important academic skills, and they can experience short-term memory loss. Habitual marijuana users tend to do worse in school and are much more likely to drop out altogether.
  • Teens who rely on marijuana as a chemical crutch and refuse to face the challenges of growing up never learn the emotional, psychological, and social lessons of adolescence.
  • The research is not complete on the effects of marijuana on the developing brain and body.

Resource: “Growing Up Drug-Free: A Parent’s Guide to Prevention,” released by the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, an extention of the U.S Department of Education.

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