Parenting for Prevention

Photo by Tatiana Gonzales / Unsplash

A clear and committed message is essential to help our youth through the web of peer pressure and stress that is part of growing up in America.

It’s pretty basic, really. Kids drink to change the way they feel.

They succumb to peer pressure. They’re stressed out, and a few hits of pot or a couple of beers is quick relief.

What isn’t so basic, or intuitive, is how to reel them back in once they’ve started down the path of drinking and drugging.

According to Jeffrey S. Wolfsberg, internationally recognized substance abuse prevention specialist, one key to your children avoiding addiction is to keep them from starting in the first place. For every year that a child staves off drinking, he says, their risk of addiction is lowered by 15 percent.

Wolfsberg was in the Twin Cities doing workshops with junior high students. Separately, he held parent education evenings to help parents understand current youth addiction issues, and offer strategies for prevention.

Part of the problem, Wolfsberg explains, is that the brain doesn’t develop all at once. The part of the brain that says, “this feels good, I’m going to do it again,” has a head start on the part of the brain that reasons, and counters with, “but this isn’t good for you.” And so, if a child gets that “this feels good” feeling in the first place, they aren’t equipped to reason their way out of it the second time.

Wolfsberg urges us to be more intuitive with our childrenDo we lock the liquor cabinet? Yes! Wolfsberg says, and suddenly my mind flashes back to the lines my parents drew on the bottles of Cutty Sark and Smirnoff.

Do we stay up at night and wait for them to get home from the party? Yes again! And I remember stealing into the house at 2 a.m., thankful that no one was up to see my disheveled appearance and smell the noxious fumes of my breath.

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Wolfsberg advocates parenting for prevention. “Do your work now,” he tells a rapt audience at Lake Country School in Minneapolis, passing on the words of advice from his own father, “Dealing with an adult child with a drug abuse problem is devastating.”

Wolfsberg’s father recalled the old days, when kids would stumble home drunk or stoned from a party, and the parents might dismiss it. “Boys will be boys,” was the pat cliche, and they’d shake their heads and smile. ‘Yep, teenagers will be teenagers.”

But with the prevalence of teenage drinking, drug use, depression, and learning disabilities, we’re not quite as dismissive anymore. Our risk factors are high, and we need to be vigilant in protecting and guiding our youth.

In order to help our youth, we need to understand them, and meet them where they are. Wolfsberg urges us to be more intuitive with our children. Pay attention. According to Wolfsberg, children have three fundamental wants from their parents.

  1. they want to have fun with you and not have life be so “task driven”;
  2. they want a symbiotic flow in the parent-child relationship;
  3. they want respect. They want parents to listen to them and not be distracted when they are trying to tell them something.

Wolfsberg cited peer pressure and stress as the two main factors in why kids use alcohol and drugs. He challenged the audience to look at their childrens’ schedules, wherein lies a double edged sword.

“‘I don’t have time to smoke pot’ a kid once told me,” relates Wolfsberg. “Which is great, but you have to be careful that the stress of a busy schedule doesn’t force your kid into drugs. They need to let the air out of that balloon.”

As we raise our children to become more efficient and productive, they can translate these skills to drug and alcohol use as well. “That’s why it’s so seductive,” says Wolfsberg of substance abuse and busy schedules. “It’s efficient and predictable. Kids don’t want to work to recreate. They’ve been working hard all day. If they can have five beers or smoke some pot, their recreating is quick and easy.”

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Parent for prevention. Let your kids be kids. Support them, listen to them, be with them. The number one reason that kids in high school said they didn’t get drunk or do drugs was this: “Mom and dad trust and love me.”

Julia Jergensen Edelman was the editor and former publisher of The Phoenix Spirit. 

This article first appeared in the May 2004 issue of The Phoenix Spirit.

Last Updated on August 19, 2022

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