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When to Start

Start with preschoolers…
Children at this age are not drug users, but if we talk to them now, before the problem exists, we can have an impact when they are 10, 11 and 12. The foundation for all healthy habits, from eating nutritious foods to using proper hygiene to dressing appropriately for the weather, begins in the preschool years.

While drug use by for children this age may not be a concern, even young children hear about drugs. Unless adults take the time to help children sort through the messages they receive, what they think they understand about drugs may be far from reality. Moreover, because children who resist early drug experimentation are generally adept at problem-solving and self-help, parents need to ensure that the foundations for these skills are laid down during the preschool years.

Preschoolers regard the adults in their life as all-powerful. Perhaps at no other time in their lives is your approval as highly prized or your teachings as well received as during these early years of unconditional devotion. Remember that both as you talk with your children and as you consider what behaviors you model about the use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.

  • Ask children what they think about a TV program or story-line. Discuss how TV/storybook characters are like and unlike people they know.
  • Discuss how violence and bad decisions can hurt people.
  • Realize that when you use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, you are sending a message endorsing your children’s use of these substances.
  • Give children honest praise for their attempts to take responsibility for their own good health.

The typical school-aged child is eager to be independent and grown up. School opens up a new world to children beyond the closeness of family. As children grow older, friends take on heady proportions and children seemingly live or die based on their friends’ opinions. Acceptance can be everything. The advent of reading and writing skills will also make your child a global learner. Because peers and reading skills expand your child’s world, messages about tobacco, alcohol and other drugs may be conflicting with the one’s you give your child.

As you talk with school-aged children about drug use, remember that children have a hard time focusing on future consequences – the here and now is what is important to them. They do, however, understand the reason for rules and appreciate having limits in place. This applies to rules about bed times and homework and to no-use rules about tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.

  • Without putting your child’s friends down, underscore your values and the importance of making decisions that are consistent with these values.
  • Talk with the parents of your child’s friends to determine if they are giving their children messages that are consistent with yours.
  • Let your child know what is allowable at home and school and what isn’t.

Young adolescents…
Between the ages of 10 and 15, children typically move from having good feelings about themselves and their life at home and school to at least some feelings of insecurity, doubt and pressure.

With the many dramatic changes taking place within them, young adolescents look to one another for support. “The group” defines what they should wear, what music they should listen to and what activities should occupy their time. It can be very threatening for parents to see the peer group’s values assuming such importance in their child’s lives. Still, children do not relinquish their powers of thought. They approach problems systematically, try to see things from different perspective, have a marked sense of right and wrong and are ready champions of justice.

When looking at drug and alcohol use, parents must recognize that young adolescents are easily swayed by what their peer group feels is appropriate. Self-doubt can also make youth vulnerable to the “quick fixes” of tobacco, drugs and alcohol. However, with expanding social consequences, young people may view the refusal to use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs as a civic responsibility. Young adolescents are also concerned about their appearance. If they believe drug and alcohol use will impair their looks and health, they are unlikely to be tempted by these practices.

  • Don’t abandon your child to the peer group, even though you may feel this is what they want.
  • Base drug and alcohol messages on facts, not fears.
  • Emphasize how drug use affects the things that are important to young adolescents such as sports, driving, health and appearance.