Be On the Look Out

Advice by Age (Grades K-12)

Grades K – 3

Children at this age are still tied to the family and eager to please but they are also beginning to explore their individuality.  Your student begins to spend more time at school and with peers and is collecting information (including messages about drugs and alcohol) from lots of new places (the media and popular culture).  It is important that you continue talking to your child about a healthy drug free lifestyle and stress that of all of the voices your child hears, yours should be the one he listens to.

Tips to help you help your child live a healthy, drug-free life.

  1. Keep your talks about tobacco, alcohol and other drugs factual and focused on the here and now.  Long term consequences are too far away to have any meaning.  Let your child know that that people who drink too much get sick and throw up, or that smoking makes your clothes stink and causes bad breath.  And that using someone else’s medicine is dangerous and could make them sick.
  2. Talk to your kids about the drug-related messages they receive through advertisements, the news media and entertainment sources.  Television and movies tend to glamorize drug use. Remember to ask your child how he feels about the things that he has heard and seen – you may be surprised at what he is thinking.
  3. Consider talking about the differences between the medicinal uses and illegal uses of drugs, and what harm drugs can do to users.
  4. Set clear rules and behave the way you want your child to behave.  Tell the reasons for your rules.  If you use tobacco or alcohol, be aware of the message you are sending to your children.
  5. Help your child explore new ways to express their feelings and ideas.  Children who feel shy in one on one conversation might open up through painting, drawing, writing or emailing a friend or family member.
  6. Work on problem solving by focusing on the types of problems kids come across.  Help your child find long-lasting solutions to homework trouble, a fight with a friend or in dealing with a bully.  Be sure to point out that quick fixes are not long-term solutions.
  7. Give your kids the power to escape from situations that make them feel bad.  Make sure that they know that they shouldn’t stay in a place that makes them feel uncomfortable or bad about themselves.  Also, let them know that they don’t need to stick with friends who don’t support them.
  8. Get to know your child’s friends – and their friends’ parents.  Check in by phone or a visit once in a while to make sure they are giving their children the same kinds of messages you give your children.
  9. Sign your kids up with community groups or programs that emphasize the positive impact of a healthy lifestyle.  Your drug-free messages will be reinforced – and your kids will have fun, stay active and develop healthy friendships.

Substances in your kindergartner to 3rd graders’ world can include:  tobacco, alcohol and Ritalin.

Grades 4 – 6

Preteens:  they are on a mission to figure out their place in the world.  When it comes to the way they view that world, they tend to give their friends’ opinions a great deal of power, while at the same time, they are starting to question their parents’ views and messages.  Your advice may be challenged – but it will be heard and will stay with your child much more than he or she will ever admit.  Here are some ideas to help your preteen live a healthy and drug-free life:

  1. Make sure your child knows your rules – and that you will enforce the consequences if rules are broken.  This applies to the no-use rules about tobacco, alcohol and other drugs – as well as bedtimes and homework.  Research shows that kids are less likely to use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs if their parents have established a pattern of setting clear rules and consequences for breaking those rules.
  2. Act out scenes with your child where people offer her drugs.  Kids who don’t know what to say or how to get away are more likely to give in to peer pressure.  Let them know that they can always use you as an excuse and say “No, my mom (or dad, or grandma, etc.) will kill me if I smoke a cigarette”.   Explain why they shouldn’t continue friendships with kids who have offered them cigarettes, alcohol or pills.
  3. Tell your child what makes him so special.  Puberty can shake a child’s self-esteem.  Feelings of insecurity, doubt and pressure may creep in.  Combat those feelings with a lot of positive comments about his life and who he is as an individual – and not just when he brings home an A.
  4. Give your child the power to make decisions that go against their peers.  You can reinforce this message through small things such as encouraging your child to choose  the sneakers he likes rather than the pair that everyone else has.
  5. Base drug and alcohol messages on facts, not fear.  Kids can’t argue with facts but their new need for independence may allow them to get around their fears.  Plus, kids love to learn facts – both the known- to-be-true and the truly odd.
  6. Preteens aren’t concerned with future problems that might result from experimentation with tobacco, alcohol or other drugs, but they are concerned about their appearance.  Tell them about the smell hair and stinky breath caused by cigarettes.  Make sure they know that it would be hard to perform in the school play or be on the team while high on marijuana.
  7. Get to know your child’s friends – and their friends’ parents.  Check in by phone or a visit once in a while to make sure they are giving their children the same kinds of messages you give your children.
  8. Help children separate reality from fantasy.  Watch TV and movies with them and ask lots of questions to reinforce the distinction between the two.  Remember to include advertising in your discussion, as those messages are especially powerful.

Substances in your fourth to sixth grader’s world can include:  tobacco, alcohol, Ritalin, Adderall, inhalants, marijuana.

Transitions: The first year of middle school

Your child’s transition from elementary school to middle school is a critical time and calls for extra vigilance on a parent’s part. Your child may still seem young, but their new surroundings can put them in some mature and tempting situations.  The likelihood that kids will try drugs increases dramatically during this year.  Your child is going to meet lots of new kids, seek acceptance and start to make more – and bigger – choices.  For the first time, your kids will be exposed to older kids who use alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.  New middle or junior high school-ers often think that these older kids are cool and may be tempted to try drugs to fit in.

One type of drug that seems to be at risk for use during this age is inhalants.  Inhalants are ordinary household products that are inhaled or sniffed by children to get high – but can cause serious brain damage and death.  It is important to be aware of these harmful chemicals and be sure to educate your children on their effects.

At this age, peer approval means everything and your child may make you feel unwelcome.  He is going through a time where he feels as though he should be able to make his own decisions and may start to challenge your values.  While your child may pull away from you to establish his own identity, he actually needs you to be involved in his life more than ever before.

Also, be aware that your child is going through some major physical and hormonal changes.  Her moods may vary as she tries to come to terms with her ever-changing body and the onset of puberty.  Reassure her that nothing is out of the ordinary and your child can relax knowing that what she’s going through is normal.

To help your child make good choices during this critical time, you should:

  • Make it very clear that you do not want her to use alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.
  • Find out if he really understands the consequences of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use.
  • Get to know her friends by taking them to and from after-school activities, games, the library and movies (while being sensitive to her need to feel independent).  Check in with her friends’ parents often to make sure you share the same anti-drug stance.
  • Be sure you know his online friends – as well as his other online activities.
  • Volunteer for activities where you can observe him at school.
  • Hold a weekly family meeting to check in with each other and address problems or concerns.
  • Get your kids involved with adult supervised after-school activities.
  • Give kids who are unsupervised after school a schedule of activities, limits on the behavior, household chores to accomplish and a strict “phone to check in with you” policy.
  • Make it easy for your child to leave a situation where alcohol, tobacco or other drugs are being used.
  • Call kids’ parents if their home is to be used for a party – get assurance that no alcoholic beverages or illegal substances will be at the party.
  • Set curfews and enforce them.
  • Encourage open dialogue with your children about their experiences

Grades 7 – 9

For parents, this is a pivotal time in helping kids make positive choices when faced with drugs and alcohol.  The average age kids try drugs for the first time is 13.  But you can help your teen stay healthy and drug-free and beat the negative statistics.  Kids who learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50% less likely to use.  So stay involved.  Young teens may say they don’t need your guidance, but they are much more open to it than they’ll ever admit.  Make sure you talk to them about their choices of friends – drug use in teens often starts as a social behavior.

Five tips to help your teen live a healthy, drug free life:

  1. Make sure your teen knows your rules and consequences for breaking those rules- and, most importantly, that you really will enforce those consequences if the rules are broken.
  2. Let your teen in on all the things you find wonderful about him.  Positive reinforcement can go a long way n preventing drug use among teens.
  3. Show interest – and discuss – your child’s daily ups and downs.  You’ll earn your child’s trust, learn how to talk to each other and won’t take your child by surprise when you voice a strong point of view about drugs.
  4. Tell your teen about the negative effect alcohol, tobacco and other drugs have on physical appearance.  Teens are extremely concerned with their physical appearance.  Tell them about a time you saw a friend or acquaintance get sick from alcohol and reinforce how completely disgusting it was.
  5. Don’t leave your child’s anti-drug education up to her school.  Ask your teen what she’s learned about drugs in school and then continue with that topic or introduce new topics.

Substances in your 7th to 9th grade student’s world can include:  tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs such as Ritalin or Adderall, inhalants, and illicit drugs such as marijuana, ecstasy, herbal ecstasy, cocaine/crack, GHB, rohypnol, ketamine, LSD, mushrooms, bath salts, synthetic marijuana and heroin.

Grades 10 – 12

When it comes to drugs, teenagers are an informed group.  Drugs and messages about living drug-free lives have been part of their lives for years.  They can make distinctions not only among different drugs and their effects, but also among trial, occasional use and addiction.  They have witnessed many of their peers using drugs – some without obvious or immediate consequences, other whose drug use gets out of control.  By the teen years, kids have also had to make plenty of choices of their own about drug use:  whether they should give into peer pressure and experiment with drugs, or go against some of their peers and stay clean.

Here are six tips to help you help your teen to stay healthy and drug free:

  1.  Don’t speak generally about drug and alcohol use – your older child needs to hear detailed and reality –driven messages.  Important topics include:  using a drug just once can have serious permanent consequences; can put you in risky and dangerous situations; anybody can become a chronic user or addict; combining drugs can have deadly consequences.
  2. Emphasize what drug use can do to your teen’s future.  Discuss how drug use can ruin your teen’s chance of getting into college or landing the perfect job.
  3. Challenge your child to be a peer leader among his friends and to take personal responsibility for his actions and show others how to do the same.
  4. Encourage your teen to volunteer somewhere that he can see the impact of drugs on your community.  Teens tend to be idealistic and enjoy hearing about the ways they can help make the world a better place.  Help your teen research volunteer opportunities at local homeless shelters, hospitals or victim services centers.
  5. Use news reports as discussion openers.  If you see a news story about an alcohol related car accident, talk to your teen about all the victims that an accident leaves in its wake.  If the story is about drugs in your community, talk about the ways your community has changed as drug use has grown.
  6. Compliment your teen for all the things he does well and for the positive choices he makes.  Let him know that he is seen and appreciated.  And let him know who you appreciate what a good role model he is for his younger siblings and other kids in the community.  Teens still care what their parents think.  Let him know how deeply disappointed you would be if he started using drugs.

Drugs in your teenager’s world can include:  tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs such as Ritalin, Oxycontin, Vicodin, Valium and Xanax,  inhalants, marijuana, ecstasy, herbal ecstasy, cocaine/crack, GHB, heroin, Rohypnol, Ketamine, LSD, Mushrooms.

Source:  Parents Resource Center,