Bombarded with technology, our kids can look up anything on the internet and they do. They have a distorted view of what is acceptable and a perception that anything goes when it does not. We have the world at our fingertips and are exposed to news around the world, both good and bad. We need to ensure that our kids get the truth: from us.
We don't want our youth to experience bullying, receive cruel text messages and/or e-mails, think suicide is an answer for anything, abuse cough medicine, prescription drugs, inhalants, any substance abuse, or experience the life stressors that our youth live with in today's world. Electronic or cyberbullying is highly accessible and can occur any time, both at school and home. Messages are distributed to a larger audience very quickly. It is often anonymous, encouraging youth to engage in behaviors they wouldn't do face-to-face. They may be nervous to report cyberbullying for fear that their time on their cell phone or computer will be limited. Bystanders and witnesses to the bullying are anonymous, too, so they don't have to deal with it face-to-face.
What can we do to help our youth grow to be responsible adults when there is so much pressure on them? I saw on the news that several states are spending millions of dollars to educate our youth, sending them to college, and still too many drop out in their sophomore year, due to the fact that they aren't prepared. Too often they aren't prepared for life.
Parents are still the biggest influence on our youth. We strive to keep them physically healthy and must also help them keep their brain healthy. Drug and/or alcohol abuse, risky behaviors, peer influences and not feeling connected to their community can put our youth at risk. It is time to talk and there are many resources for getting the conversation started. ThePartnership@Drugfree.org and TakeTimetoTalk.org are good on-line resources for parents. The Ely Chapman Education Foundation has a resource library for families and there are several resources available through your county library. "How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid," Joseph Califano, is a good first step in understanding the world our youth are growing up in. It is a common sense approach to expectations for both you and your child.
The Right Path for Washington County, our community coalition, understands that prevention is more important today than ever before. With treatment dollar reductions and an investment needed in recovery, preventing drug/alcohol use/abuse becomes everyone's responsibility. The entire community is vital when it comes to keeping our youth engaged, not just at school and at home. Research shows that it takes seven positive adults to raise one child. Further research tells us that a real sense of community help youth feel that they are supported by their community. The longer we can put off youth substance abuse beyond the age of 21, new research tells us they may never use/abuse in their lifetime. These are promising outcomes for our future generation.
Parents, you matter. There are no perfect families; we do the best we can. Learn the facts about drugs and communicate the risks. This is not the same world we grew up in; both the media and drugs have changed. Tell your kids how much you love them and you don't want anything bad to happen to them. Monitor your child and check up on them. They might get mad, but in national surveys, our youth tell us that they want parents to give them consequences when they get into trouble, not be a friend. Tell them you disapprove of any drug use. Use teachable moments.
If you suspect, or find that your child is using and they are doing poorly in school; friends, sleeping habits, and behaviors are changing; or if their family relationships are less open, honest; get focused, take action, show your concern and get professional help: This is a health issue.
As a mom, I remember when my greatest fears were falls, illnesses, someone eating an antique bulb off my Christmas tree (this really happened) and other worries as my children were growing up. Without an owner's manual, I thought if I could just move them to the next stage of life, everything would go according to plan. Sometimes it doesn't.
Cathy Harper is coordinator of The Right Path, a United Way Agency.