Across the nation, the war against drugs is being fought every day by everyone from parents, educators and health care professionals, to law enforcement, media and legislators. Centre County is no exception. As parents and community members, one of the most important things we can do is educate ourselves about what drugs are out there, what the current trends are and what prevention strategies we can implement.
Two such opportunities for education are happening this month. On Tuesday, the Centre County HOPE Initiative will hold its third town hall meeting, which will focus on prevention and education. This meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Bald Eagle Area High School. The second opportunity will occur at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at Mount Nittany Middle School with a Straight Talk program titled, “Drugs and Alcohol: What’s Out There.”
Both presentations will educate the community about drugs and alcohol but will focus on prevention and tips for parents. We will talk about what works and what doesn’t work in prevention and give parents helpful tips on dealing with the issue, including discussions of trends and the path to addiction, as well as tips for talking with kids.
Research shows that the most important thing parents can do to prevent or reduce substance use is to talk with their children. When we say that parents should talk with children, we don’t mean to have one big talk about the topic, but rather that conversations start when kids are as young as preschool age and continue through the teen years and into young adulthood. We talk to preschoolers about the importance of taking care of our bodies, and include ideas as simple as good nutrition and teeth brushing. With elementary school kids, conversations can be about problem-solving and expressing emotions, and with pre-teens those conversations might be about making good choices and rules and consequences. All of these topics are important elements of leading a healthy life and are critical for substance use prevention. When youth are older, the talks can specifically be about drugs and alcohol, your expectations for their behaviors and the consequences when they don’t meet those expectations.
Another critical area of prevention for parents is supervision. Know where your child is spending his or her time and with who. Get to know your child’s friends and also the parents of those friends. Communicate regularly with those parents. Set clear and simple rules for your child and appropriate and timely consequences when the rules are broken. Be prepared to follow through with the consequences and on the flip side, offer encouragement and express appreciation when the rules are followed.
Take the time to become educated about what challenges your kids are facing and what strategies will help give your child the best chance to grow up healthy and happy. Positive parenting plays an important role in the prevention of youth substance use.
Denise Herr McCann is the community-based division director at the Youth Service Bureau and the mother of three young men.