This age is perhaps the most important time for parents to focus on prevention. These later elementary school years are crucial to future decisions about the use of alcohol and other drugs. Research shows the earlier children begin to use alcohol and other drugs, the more likely they are to experience consequences, as well as to become addicted.
Set clear rules and role model good behavior
Make sure your child knows your rules - and that you'll enforce the consequences if rules are broken.
Kids are less likely to use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs if their parents have established a pattern of setting clear rules and consequences for breaking those rules. This applies to no-use rules about tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs — as well as bedtimes and homework. Have clear expectations for behavior, monitor your child, and implement appropriate consequences. In setting these rules, be sure you discuss your rules and expectations in advance and follow through with the consequences you’ve set.
Don’t forget to acknowledge times when your child follows the rules! Parents who have a warm relationship with their children while maintaining rules for behavior are teaching their children self-discipline. Parents who have rules that are too harsh or no rules at all are more likely to have children who are at greater risk for drug-taking behavior.
If you use tobacco or alcohol, be mindful of the message you are sending to your children. We may unknowingly be relaying a message that we don't want. Avoid giving your child sips of alcohol, asking them to grab you a beer from the fridge, taking your child with you into a bar or liquor store, or asking them to pass your cigarettes. By avoiding these behaviors, you reinforce your message that alcohol and tobacco are not for children and they are dangerous for growing bodies. Take a Closer Look at how you model alcohol use to your children.
Finding Their Passion
I'd rather ________ than do drugs! Help your child fill in the blank:
Research shows that when youth are engaged in healthy activities, they are less likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs. Being involved in and having a passion for something fosters skills such as communication, relationship-building, self-control, and problem solving (among others).
When youth have something they enjoy, look forward to, and are proud of, they are less likely to turn to drugs and alcohol. Encourage your child to find their passion and to "live their no". Ask them what their interests are and do what you can to encourage and support these interests.
Avoiding peer pressure
Act out scenes with your child where people offer them drugs.
It is not uncommon for sixth graders to be offered alcohol or cigarettes or know other children who have tried them. Make sure your child is well-versed in the reasons to avoid alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Continue to practice ways to say "no" with your child because kids who don't know what to say or how to get away are more likely to give in to peer pressure. Here are some ways your child can say "no"...
- "How about we go to my place and watch a movie?"
- "No, I have a basketball game tomorrow"
- "I'm not feeling good and should go home"
- "No thanks, I would be grounded for weeks"
Explain why he or she shouldn't continue friendships with kids who have offered them cigarettes, alcohol or other drugs.
Your child tells you he was offered prescription drugs by a classmate — but said no.
What to Say
After praising your child for making a good choice and for telling you about it, let him know that he can always come to you.
Praise your child
Tell your child what makes him so special.
Puberty can be a very confusing time for boys and girls. Girls may lose self-confidence and self-worth and be more vulnerable to negative outside influences and mixed messages about risky behaviors. Boys tend to experience mood swings, have feeling of anxiety, and explore things associated with being grown up. Puberty can upend a child's self-esteem and produce feelings of insecurity, doubt and pressure. Therefore, it is important that you offset those feelings with a lot of positive comments and self-esteem boosts about their life and who s/he is as an individual (and not just when he brings home an A).
Give your children the power to make decisions that go against their peers.
Wanting to fit in, to belong, is a natural part of growing up therefore, the opinions of friends are rapidly becoming very important (perhaps more important than their parent's opinions). Children at this age should not only be taught to respect the feelings of their peers but to be responsible for their actions and to expect responsible behavior from their friends and peers. It is important to discuss with your child how to make good choices in the company of friends, say "no" to peer pressure, and discuss the importance of thinking and acting as an individual. You can reinforce this message through small things such as encouraging your child to pick out the sneakers he likes rather than the pair his four friends have.
Know who is influencing your child
Get to know your child's friends - and their friends' parents.
An advantage to getting to know the parents of your child's friends is that you will know the kind of people that are influencing your child. Also, by getting to know the parents, you can verify your child's statements when he or she says, "All my friends get to do it." Most importantly, connecting with the families of your child's friend will help form a safety net for your child because you can help supervise each other's children and look out for their safety. It is common in small towns for everyone to know everyone even through generations! Here are several ways you meet other families: set play-dates, arrange to share driving with other parents for after-school activities, volunteer at your child's school, join PTA, attend faith-based activities, attend sporting events or other social gatherings, etc.
Keep them active
Help your child find a peer group and after-school activities.
Children as young as eleven or twelve years old can be strongly influenced by the behavior of their peers. Take steps to direct your child toward the right kinds of peer groups from the start so your child will form friendships with other children in those groups. Your child will have a sense of belonging and will avoid groups that use alcohol or drugs. You can further encourage your child’s social life by helping them become involved in activities with other children who share the same interest. Structured after-school programs such as sports, scouts, 4H, music, dance, or faith-based activities will provide your child an opportunity to meet other children with similar interest and gain self-confidence by developing skills and talents. It will also give your child something constructive to do after school because the hours after school are often times when children first experiment with drugs, especially if they are unsupervised.
Substance-related messages in the media
Talk to your kids about substance-related messages received through the media.
Our culture bombards us with positive messages about alcohol and other drugs. Teach your child to be aware of how drugs and alcohol are promoted by explaining that these companies are trying to convince consumers to buy their products in order to make a profit. Alcohol and tobacco industries are increasingly directing these ads at young people. Discuss with your child how messages- from TV, song lyrics, billboards, and advertisements – glamorize the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and may not tell the whole story.
Have awareness of dangerous household products
Inhalants are gases and vapors from products used in homes, offices, and schools that are inhaled. Because they get into the lungs and blood so quickly and because they are toxins and pollutants, they damage all parts of the body. When people abuse inhalants, they are really poisoning themselves.
In North Dakota, inhalants are the 2nd most abused substance (alcohol being the first) among middle school students with one in ten middle school students who have abuse inhalants (YRBS, 2009). Inhalants are not a drug, they are a poison.
Here are some tips for talking to your child about the dangers of household products...
- Discuss what poisons are and what effects they have on a healthy body.
- Talk about oxygen and how it is needed to sustain life.
- Open windows or use fans when products call for proper ventilation.
- Discuss the purpose of common household and commercial products. Emphasize that, when not used properly, certain fumes or gases may harm the body, act as a poison, and can make the child sick.
- Read product labels together. Talk about the directions and answer any questions your child may have. Check the label to see if use by children is recommended before your child uses a product.
- Educate your child about the dangers, but avoid educating about specific products being abused as inhalants.
- Monitor your child’s activities.
What not to say...
- Do not discuss specific products that are abused.
- Do not inform your child that these products will get you high.
- Never explain or demonstrate techniques for inhaling products.