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Power to the Parents: Being a Good Role Model
Jill Perry

Jill Perry

Power to the Parents is a feature that will appear in every issue of The Guide to Good Health to help parents who are concerned about the widespread problem of young people and substance abuse. If your child is using drugs or alcohol and you are trying to deal with that, or if you are working to prevent your child from using, you will find practical advice here from the expert professionals at Gateway Rehabilitation Center. In this issue, Jill Perry, LPC, NCC, CAADC, director of detox and nursing services at Gateway Rehab, discusses the importance of parents as role models.

How significant is the parent as a role model?
Parents are the first and the most important role models for their children. We have a responsibility to do the best we can, knowing that the kids will do what we do. Have high standards: don't use drugs and if you drink, do so in moderation. Don't drink and drive.

When we see kids who began using at a younger age, we usually find that they've seen substance abuse in the family as they were growing up. It's almost normal to them. They will be likely to have easier access to drugs or alcohol. Another related issue is that parents who are using tend to be less aware of what their kids are doing.

The way we communicate, express anger, cope with stress – these things will be imitated by the kids. They're always paying attention. Teach them to confront problems head-on, not to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with stress.

Some parents believe that it is a good idea to introduce their kids to drinking alcohol at home, so that their first experiences are supervised by them.
Drinking with your kids is dangerous. Kids have a different metabolism and different brain chemistry. Brain development continues up to the age of 25; the parent's job is to give kids the best chance for a bright future. When you drink with your kids or let them drink at home, you're giving approval to an illegal activity.

In our culture, some see drinking and smoking marijuana as rites of passage. Instead of drinking or smoking with kids, talk to them about it. The ideal is open communication about drugs and alcohol. When there is a family history of substance abuse, be open about the increased risk to them and the consequences of addiction.

What can parents do to counteract peer pressure to experiment with drugs or alcohol?
First, don't underestimate peer pressure. Kids are more vulnerable to it than you may realize. Social media have added a whole new dimension to peer pressure, and this is a challenge for parents. Kids today are bombarded, from awakening to bedtime, with constant ideas and images, on their cell phones, I-pads, Facebook and Twitter. They need a place to process all of this input. My kids tell me things that they hear and don't understand; we then talk about it as a family.

Pay attention to the child's activities online. Ask what they are looking at. Share passwords, but let them know that you'll be doing it. You may see behaviors online that you don't see at home.

What can parents do to educate themselves about the problem of substance abuse?
Learn the language. There are always new street drugs with creative names, and drug dealers are marketing geniuses. You may hear the kids talking, using a word that sounds perfectly innocent, but it's actually a drug. Do your own research: if you hear the kids using words in an unusual context, google that word. "Spice," for instance, is a synthetic marijuana; "Molly" is a form of ecstasy. These words can be imbedded in songs, and the kids are listening to the music.

There are excellent resources for parents, and the Gateway Rehab web site has links to many.

What else can parents do to help their kids avoid drugs and alcohol?
Spend time with the kids in two ways: one-on-one time, and family time. When you spend one-on-one time with your child, you never know where it might go; you might be amazed at how much your kids need and want this.

Remember that they are still children and need your protection. It's important to set limits and establish standards at the beginning; putting in boundaries later is difficult. Think of it this way: "It's easier to loosen up than tighten up."

If you have alcohol, prescription pain medications or sedatives, keep them locked up and keep it private. Your kids don't need to know what prescriptions you have. Make home a safe place, where your kids know that they can talk about what's happening at school. Let them know that if they're in a situation that makes them uncomfortable, they can come home.

Be consistent with boys and girls. Parents tend to be more lenient with boys; as a result we have more men in treatment.

Finally, be good to yourself. No parent is perfect. If you get angry, it's okay to apologize and make amends. Tell your kids, "I'm sorry you saw me react that way; I'm not perfect." This lets kids know that they don't have to be perfect either. Stress takes a toll on everyone, parents and kids alike. One of the main reasons kids start using is because they are stressed out and trying to fit in. Find some trusted guidance for yourself, with a grandparent, an experienced neighbor or a community group.

For more information, visit www.gatewayrehab.org. To contact Jill Perry, call 1-800-472-1177.

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