Awareness starts early

Not just students at R. Roger Rowe School learned about drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention during Red Ribbon Week Oct. 24 to 31. Their parents learned when, how, and how important it is to talk to their children about drug and alcohol's negative impacts.

"You can stop kids using drugs and alcohol if you start very early talking about making good choices," said Keith Kanner, a clinical child, adolescent and adult psychoanalyst based in Rancho Santa Fe.

Parents can begin talking about drugs and alcohol with their children as young as first grade, the time when they understand some things are bad and can hurt them, Kanner said.

Simple and straightforward

"Bring it down to their level," Kanner said. "Help identify that the use of drugs and alcohol is really not OK, not good for your health, that they really hurt your body."

It's important for parents to make themselves accessible so teens know they can talk to their parents if they do have a problem, Kanner said. Parents can do this by explaining to their children that they want to protect and help them, and will not get mad. In other words, don't say 'If I ever find out you're doing drugs, I'll kill you.'

However, parents can help students learn how to decline drug or alcohol offers by saying similar words: 'My parents would kill me' or 'I don't want to hurt my body.'

Parents not only need to take an active role in this discussion, they need to walk the talk says Kanner.

"You really need to not smoke or drink in any excess while in front of your kids," he said. "Trying to be the 'cool' parent is not the way to go."

As children distance themselves during adolescence, many parents allow their teenagers to drink in an effort to keep them close. This compromises parents' ability to protect their children, Kanner said. When they try to tell their teens to stop drinking, parents will be accused of being hypocrites.

Stay involved

As drugs and alcohol increase in use at increasingly younger ages, its critical parents are involved in their children's lives, Kanner said. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

"In most cases of kids actively using drugs there is a lack of parental involvement," Kanner said.

Teenagers are not very good of hiding their habits and so parents who are not around will miss the warning signs.

Signs parents can look for that could indicate their child is using drugs or alcohol are: personality changes, depression, drop in grades, lack or friendship or hanging out with the 'wrong crowd.'

Parents should address the issue of drugs and alcohol when they have their children's undivided attention, perhaps in the car or at dinner when the television is off.

Kanner emphasized parents don't want to scare their children, but should approach the topic as educating them about the differences between healthy and harmful substances.

And don't wait for students to ask.

"When it comes to health-related issues, this is one of things you bring up," Kanner said.

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