Positivity is key to preventing youth substance use
Strong relationships and positive messages can help parents, teachers and mentors guide young people toward healthy choices
For the Summit Daily
Editor’s Note: Sponsored content brought to you by the Healthy Futures Initiative
It’s essential to use reputable sources when researching the effects of substance use on youth. The following websites contain science-based facts and helpful advice:
When it comes to helping children make good decisions about alcohol, marijuana and other substances, parents are more successful when they skip the scare tactics.
Youth have the ability to fact-check what they’re told, according to Speak Now Colorado, a Colorado Department of Human Services website that provides advice for parents. When parents speak the truth, focus on positive messages and avoid the scare tactics, they not only build trust with their children, they also increase the likelihood their messages get through.
“The first step parents can take is to become informed about the facts and effects of drug and alcohol use,” said Amy Wineland, director of the Summit County Public Health Department. “An educated parent can give their children correct, honest information. It is also important for parents to understand that they are role models and a parent’s view and relationship with alcohol, tobacco and drugs can strongly influence how their children think about them.”
Here are some of the most successful tips for talking to youth about making good decisions when faced with difficult situations.
Focus on positive messages
Research shows that creating fear about drugs, alcohol or sex — such as showing graphic images, sharing scary stories about past experiences or sharing tragic outcomes — might have the opposite effect.
Logan Simson, a 17-year-old senior at Summit High School, said she and her peers are more likely to listen when the messaging from adults is positive. Simson is active in the Youth Empowerment Society of Summit (YESS), a youth group that works to promote healthy choices among their peers.
“Rather than say, ‘don’t do drugs or you’ll die,’ it’s more important to point out that our brains are still in development and these substances have long-term effects,” she said. “When you’re consumed by worry and fear, your brain can’t absorb these messages. The brain isn’t in a learning state when someone tells you, ‘people will die.’”
These impacts on the brain are even more pronounced in young people. Wineland said it’s important for parents to understand brain development during adolescence.
“The pleasure centers develop faster than the parts of the brain that are responsible for decision making and risk analysis,” Wineland said. “In fact, their brains will not be fully developed until age 25. They do not always recognize the consequences of their actions. This is why their brains are more susceptible to addiction.”
When thinking about how to deliver positive messaging, Wineland suggests taking advantage of teachable moments. For example, if there is a character in a movie that is smoking, parents can talk about smoking, nicotine addiction and what smoking does to the body, Wineland said.
“This can lead into discussions about other drugs and their effects,” she said.
Gloria Quintero, parent educator with Strengthening Families Outreach Program at Youth and Family Services, said every young person, regardless of scholastic honors, can fall victim to peer pressure.
“Just because your child is on the honor roll does not mean they have the moral compass, confidence, or maturity it takes to ‘just say no,’” she said.
Don’t be critical or judge your child —this will only push them away from you. Simson said a simple “I love you,” or “I’m proud of you” goes a long way with youth.
“The youth need to know the adult has faith in them and knows of the good they are doing and are capable of,” Simson said.
Speak Now Colorado offers the following tips for promoting self-confidence when talking to children about substance use:
• Give them the opportunity to make decisions. Give your kids the opportunity to make decisions, like whether or not to go to a party. This establishes your trust in them, and their ability to do the right thing.
• Praise them for a job well done. Praise your children when they make smart choices. Positive reinforcement can go a long way. Let them know that making smart choices will bring about positive outcomes.
• Say “I love you.” It is important for your children to know that you care. Tell them you love them frequently. Let them know you are there for them.
Keep your relationship strong
Robin Albert, Summit County Youth & Family Services manager, said parents are the most powerful influence in their children’s lives. It’s important to listen without judgment and let the youth express their thoughts and beliefs even if you don’t agree with them.
“Parents will often bring strong emotions or reactivity into the conversation. This is understandable, but can impede the conversation,” Albert said. “Remember to acknowledge your own beliefs and values and check them at the door so that you can hear your child express their thoughts and forming beliefs.”
Albert advises to continue talking to your kids about these difficult subjects throughout their childhood in order to continue building a strong relationship. One conversation is not enough.
“Sometimes we incorrectly assume our youth know our personal values and beliefs and that we know theirs,” she said.
These types of candid conversations about difficult subjects have the potential to strengthen your relationship, Quintero said.
“Do your homework, and be ready to admit when you don’t have all of the answers. There’s no harm in saying, ‘That’s a great question. I’m going to have to talk to someone who knows better than me and get back to you,’” she said. “This will show your sincerity and help reinforce that it’s a conversation and not a lecture, thus making them more receptive.”
Most children respond well to open-ended questions, Wineland said. You can start by asking them what they think or know about drugs.
“By asking them questions, parents are showing their child that they are willing to discuss it and hear what they have to say,” Wineland said. “They might be more willing to come ask questions in the future.
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