“A child who reaches age 21 without smoking, abusing alcohol or using drugs is virtually certain never to do so.”
–Joseph A. Califano Jr., (former United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and the founder and former chairman of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University)
A staggering statistic from Columbia University’s Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse claims that 90% of addicts started down the path to substance abuse by drinking or using drugs prior to age 18. The human brain doesn’t even finish developing until ages 21 to 25. The last portion of the brain to develop, the prefrontal cortex, is instrumental in judgment, impulse control, and anticipating risk. Therefore, 90% of addicts suffer the consequences of decisions made before they were even fully prepared to comprehend the potential impact of those choices. To put it simply, children are making decisions, often life and death ones, which they’re not prepared to make.
As adults, we are better equipped to analyze and judge situations. We have the experience, life skills, and brain development that children and teens often lack. We can anticipate the danger and consequences associated with unhealthy decisions. Therefore, it’s crucial that we act as the prefrontal cortex for our children until theirs is fully in place.
That’s where prevention comes in, and that’s what notMYkid does. If parents are equipped with the willingness, knowledge, tools, and courage necessary to prevent negative youth behavior, it sets up their children for success. A small amount of effort on the prevention end of things can save a family a tremendous amount of heartache, time, and money spent on the intervention end.
The first key in prevention is empathetic communication. There is no greater tool in prevention than an ongoing open dialogue. If a child feels that they can come to a parent at any time to discuss anything, without fear of judgment or condemnation, they will be much more likely to open about what they’re going through. Regular family dinners are a great way to set this communication standard, and have even been shown to play a role in preventing numerous negative youth behaviors.
The second key in prevention is awareness. It’s crucial for parents to gain a greater understanding of the pressures and temptations their kids are facing on a daily basis. That includes awareness and knowledge of drug and alcohol trends, symptoms of drug and alcohol abuse, drug paraphernalia and concealment devices, and substance abuse-related slang and terminology. In our parent and school faculty presentations, we equip parents, teachers, principals, school counselors, school nurses, and others with this essential information.
Likewise, it’s equally as important for students to be aware of the potential consequences that can result from abusing alcohol and drugs. That’s why we also speak with students by sending young adult amplif(i) Peer Educators to schools to speak on their own personal experiences involving substance abuse. Our Peer Educators not only discuss the consequences they faced due to making negative decisions related to drugs and alcohol, they equip the students they meet with the life skills and healthy coping mechanisms necessary to make positive life choices.
The third key in prevention is deterrence and monitoring. Because deflecting peer pressure is not as easy as giving a simple “no,” parents need to offer their children a way to refuse offers of drugs while still saving face with their peers. Role playing potential peer pressure situations with kids gives them the opportunity to be prepared to correctly handle those situations. It’s important to anticipate such situations in advance and not wait until one arises to figure out what to do.
A powerful tool in drug abuse prevention, which serves both deterrence and monitoring purposes at the same time, is drug testing. As part of our parent substance abuse prevention presentations, notMYkid gives parents free First Check® Home Drug Tests. The tests offer kids a solid deterrent to using drugs, which also allows them to give their peers a good reason for declining the offer to use drugs. If a child can say, “I can’t. My parents drug test me,” it takes the pressure off the child. It’s no longer about not being “cool enough” to use, it’s a matter of that child’s parents taking every possible measure to make sure they don’t.
First Check Home Drug Tests also allow parents the peace of mind that comes with knowing for sure that their children are drug free. When a child tells their parents that they got straight A’s on their report card, the parent may be inclined to believe them, yet they still check the report card when it arrives. One of the very few things more important than a child’s academic achievement is keeping them free from drug abuse. Home testing is a way to verify that a child is drug free, and is a very important part of a family substance abuse prevention plan. If a test does come back positive, it allows the parents to take quick action and get their child the professional help necessary to ensure their health and safety.
Last year, notMYkid reached over 100,000 students, parents, school faculty and community members with our message of positive life choices. Our longtime partnership with First Check has allowed us to offer those individuals the best possible prevention tools and resources. Numerous families have contacted us to let us know that, due what they’ve received from notMYkid and First Check, they’ve been able to prevent a family crisis or proactively address issues that their children have been experiencing. The end result of it all is healthier children, families, and communities.
This post was contributed by Shane Watson, Manager of Parent and Faculty Education at notMYkid