Painting the town red has a whole new meaning this week. This week has been nation Red Ribbon Week, sponsored by the National Family Partnership. Westview Behavioral Health Services shares in the mission of the NFP to lead and support our families and communities in nurturing the full potential of the health, drug free youth.
This year’s theme is “YOLO. BE DRUG FREE!” While the fact remains that initiating use by the age of 15 makes a young person four times more likely to be addicted or have other negative consequences from use, there are more and more sources of temptation for young people to use drugs. So parents must be vigilant.
Here are a few suggestions from the NFP to help prevent drug use among children.
1. Trust the senses: The easiest way to detect if a child has been using drugs is to rely on the senses. Some drugs will leave behind an odor. Teenagers will often times seek to mask the scent with breath mints, cologne/perfume, or sprays. Drug use can cause a change in speaking patterns too.
Signs of drug use may include communicating less, speaking slower or faster, or noticeably slurring. Many drugs will cause dilation of pupils, red or watery eyes, and a change in posture. Finally, drastic changes in mood after being out with friends may be a sign that drug activity took place.
Tip: Be present and focused during interactions with children and teens. Know their preferred deodorant, cologne/perfume, type of gum, etc. Open up dialogue with something positive such as, “That’s a nice new scent – what is that?”
2. If they check out, check in: One of the prime signs of drug use is a decline in participation in activities and a departure from established behavior patterns, like skipping classes, a decline in academic performance, or avoiding time with family and their usual groups of friends.
Many teenagers naturally experience change in mood, personality, and need more “alone time” during these formative years, but if there is a drastic disconnect between family, friends, and formerly regular activities, then it may likely be time to open up dialogue.
Tip: Be respectful of the time that children need alone, but as a parent, make sure to allocate time for them. Find opportunities to spend time with them in an environment where they are comfortable and let conversation develop naturally.
3. Surf their social media: Teens are very likely to get upset if a parent “monitors” them on social media, but it does offer increased access to indicators of potential drug or alcohol use. Look for statements that seem suspicious, changes in the type or tone of their posts, or posting of pictures, song lyrics, or video clips that appear to have connection to drug culture.
Tip: Establish requirements to connect on all social media platforms that they join from an early age. Get educated on the various social media platforms available and the “unwritten rules” that govern the way people engage. Be careful not to embarrass them by too much interaction on social media; they may shut down this and other important lines of communication.
4. Listen for signs that they want to talk: Look for comments that may reveal a desire to have a deeper chat about the implications of drug experimentation or concerns about social or romantic impacts of responses to drug introduction.
Tip: Ask questions. Find times to just listen and offer opportunities to discuss issues related to drug use. Look for issues and situations in the news, pop culture events, TV shows, music, and movies that allow you to open up dialogue about issues related to drug use and abuse.
5. Look for teachable moments: As you’re going about your day, seek out opportunities to point out real life situations that can be used to spark an educational conversation. For example, witnessing a group of teens drinking or using drugs can be a time when a parent can discuss why it is wrong and how to address similar situations in which they may find themselves in the future.
Tip: If you notice something going on in your neighborhood while in the presence of your teen, take this time to discuss the negative effects that drugs and alcohol can have on your body and relationships. You can also use news stories as a way to provide a real life example of what can go wrong, as well as open up discussions based on things seen on TV or movies, or in the lyrics of songs.
For more information, contact Westview’s prevention services department at 276-5690.
Hugh Gray is the executive director at Westview Behavioral Health Services and can be reached at 803-276-5690.