WHAT PARENTS AND GUARDIANS CAN DO TO PREVENT DRUG USE BY YOUTH
The message of this guide is that it is better to prevent a problem than deal with the repercussions of that problem. The prevention of drug use should begin from the home. Parents are the best protection against children and adolescent drug use because parents are the first and most important influence on their children’s behaviour. Even when the influence of peers become a factor in their behaviour, parents continue to exert a significant influence on their children’s lives.
In order for you to help your child understand the dangers of using drugs, and prevent or delay the occurrence of that behaviour, adherence to the following principles are important.
It is never too early to start talking about drugs with your child. It may be too late to wait till the child is in senior secondary school. First contact with drugs takes place earlier than that. Moreover, because we live in a society where children are exposed to advertisements in the media and where alcohol is consumed in many homes and at public functions, it becomes important to talk about alcohol and other drugs with children as soon as they are able to appreciate such talk.
Attitudes about drugs are formed early in life. Parents can help their children form attitudes that will aid in the reduction of risks of drug use and other problem behaviours.
Know all you can know about drugs and drug abuse
You cannot talk about alcohol, cigarettes, inhalants, or illicit drugs if you do not know what these substances are and what they do to their users.
At the minimum, a parent should know the different types of drugs; what the drugs look and smell like; the different equipment used to take the drugs; and signs that a child may be using drugs.
A large part of this guide is devoted to information about drugs and drug use. Of course, the drug scene is a dynamic one, so it is necessary to continue to learn more about drugs from other sources.
Focus on health and well-being
It is important to talk to your child about the danger of drug use. But don’t just talk about drugs, talk about health and well-being, both physical and mental.
Encourage your child to engage in activities that lead to good health, e.g., proper hygiene, exercise and sports, and other extra-curricular activities in school.
Talk about the benefits of medicine in maintaining good health and how the same medicine can become a risk to health. Keep medicine and poisonous substances away from children at home and don’t let children take medicines themselves.
Become involved in your child’s life by doing things together
Do things together with your children. Time is a precious commodity for most parents but time spent with a child – to play games, do homework, visit friends, etc. – is time well spent. When you spend time with a child you are decreasing the opportunity for the child to “hang out” with bad company. More important, by talking with and listening to each other, you get to know each other better.
Listen to your child
You cannot be successfully involved in your child’s life if you do not listen to the child. It is easy to ignore the views and opinions of children and adolescents. But young people have a lot to say that deserves the attention of parents and other adults.
Learn to be a good listener and encourage your child to talk about his or her problems, fears and concern. Pay attention not only to words but also to facial expression and body language.
Teach your child the standards and principles that guide expected behaviour in your family and society. Let him or her know the importance of honesty, respect for others, responsibility, and other values through direct and open communication or indirectly through your own behaviours.
A child who believes in these values will be less likely to succumb to the pressure to use drugs than other children. Watch out for inconsistencies on your part. You cannot expect a child to learn values and behave accordingly if you talk in one way and behave in another.
Set rules against drugs and be consistent in enforcing them
It is important to have a clear and specific rules about the use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. The rules should be meaningful and reasonable. The consequences of breaking the rules should be spelt out and whatever punishment is imposed should be consistent with the action and not applied haphazardly.
Know your child’s friends and their parents
It is easier for your child to adhere to a set of rules if his or friends’ parents are in agreement with those rules. Talk to them about your expectations of your child. Get to know the parents of your child’s friends and work together to develop rules of conduct for both parties concerning parties, smoking or drinking and other behaviour.
Learn to protect your child against influence from peers and the media
Remember that there are many sources of influence on your child’s behaviour. Let your child know that friends can make them do things they would regret later. Other important sources of influence are newspapers, magazines, television, music and film. Whether the pressure is from friends or the media the approach often involves the impression that “everybody is doing it” or that drugs guarantee good time.
Work with your child to challenge this and other messages in advertisement for alcohol and tobacco cigarette. The good news about drugs use is that everybody is not doing it. Indeed, a child who is not using drug is in good company because majority of children and adolescents do not use drugs.
Encourage your child to join a drug free club
There are drug free clubs in schools all over Nigeria today. Find out whether your child’s school has a club and encourage him or her to become a member.
If there is no club in your child’s school, you have the right as a parent to suggest to the school administration that a club be started. You can also work with children in your church or community to start drug free club.
MORE THINGS PARENTS CAN DO TO HELP CHILDREN SAY ABSOLUTELY NO TO DRUGS AND YES TO HEALTH AND LIFE
Teach Refusal Skills
Sooner or later most children are faced with an opportunity to smoke a cigarette, drink a beer or try an illicit drug. Even a child who has developed anti-drug values and attitudes and is well informed about the potential dangers of drugs can still succumb to pressure.
This pressure can sometimes be intense and it is not often easy to “just say no” as many would expect a young person to do when confronted with pressure. Yet, it is in a child’s capacity to refuse a cigarette or an unknown substance if the child has developed the skills to do so. This involves some practice with parents, siblings or in a drug free club.
Parents and guardians should ask their children what they would do if offered a drug by a friend and discuss ways of rejecting the offer. It is also necessary to practice with the child the different ways to refuse to accept a drug offer.
Psychologist and other professionals who help children learn to counter the pressure to engage in negative behaviours agree that several steps are involved in the process.
Work with your child on how to do the following when offered a drug:
Say “thank you” and politely but firmly refuse.
Give reasons for saying no. for example, “it will make me sick”. “I am an athlete; drugs and sport do not mix.”
If offer is from a friend, suggest other things to do.
Threaten to go home if not left alone.
Get out of the situation. For example, simply walk away; leave the party or wherever the drug is being used.
Every child cannot use the same refusal strategy. Some children are shy; others are aggressive and outgoing. It is a parent’s responsibility to help a child come up with an approach that the child can use comfortably. Most parents do talk to their children about way of dealing with a bully in the playground or in school. Bringing the issue of drugs into the picture is an extension of this natural role that parents play in helping their children cope with the difficulties of growing up.
Make Your Life an Example to Your Child
There are many ways a parent can set a good example for a child where drug use is concerned. Few parents would use an illegal drug in front of their children, but many smoke cigarettes or drink to intoxication without considering the effects on their children.
Drinking is part of the culture of many Nigerians and moderate drinking by adults is acceptable behaviour. However, an adult who drinks to intoxication or smokes and, at the same time, tell a child to avoid drugs is obviously sending conflicting message.
Parents who drink should explain to their children why an adult could decide to drink and why drinking at an early age is not permissible. More important, a parent should never be drunk in front of a child.