COMMUNITY COMMENTARY:How can you help your child make good choices?

Oct. 3 was like any other Saturday in the United States. Five high school students were driving home from a house party and crashed; one student died and one was left in critical condition. This time it happened in Rancho Santa Fe and the students were from Torrey Pines High School. The students had been drinking alcohol and the driver thought he could make it home. Choices were made that forever affected the lives of five families … choices to drink despite being underage, choices to drive after drinking, choices to get into a car with a driver who had been drinking; and choices to not buckle seat belts. This weekend it will be another city’s turn. High school students will use alcohol or other drugs and some will die or be injured. But it doesn’t just start in high school. A similar event occurred recently in Orange County where a 14-year-old girl lost her life as a passenger in an automobile crash involving alcohol.
When will it be your child’s turn? SUBHEAD
If you are like most parents, you worry about such things but in the back of your mind you know this would never happen to your child. Maybe it is because your child knows better and is smart enough not to do such a thing as drink and drive or do drugs. Maybe you just feel lucky or just can’t think of such a thing. However, the fact remains that it will be some parents’ child — why not yours? How do you know your child will always make good choices?
For the parents of the teen who died last week, it was their turn. They did not believe it could happen to their family. Their child was a great kid, got good grades, played sports, was well liked by both students and adults, and never got into trouble. They were good parents who raised their child to be responsible, respectful and make appropriate choices. So why was it their child’s turn? Is it because the parents knew he was drinking but were not alarmed because he would never choose to drink and drive or choose to get into a car with another teen driver who had been drinking? Is it because he was choosing to not use any other drugs … choosing to drink alcohol is just what teens do? Maybe they never knew their son was using alcohol. For those parents who weren’t directly affected by this tragic event, finding an answer to these questions is less important than what can be done to help kids make good choices and prevent the next one.
Could these parents have changed the fate of their child? SUBHEAD
Maybe and maybe not, but here are some things to think about:
1. The chances of your child using illegal drugs before the age of 18 are 85 percent.
2. The earlier your child starts using drugs, the higher the risk of addiction, death or injury.
3. Alcohol is the leader among illegal teen drugs used, causes the most deaths and injuries, is the most common drug related to assaults, batteries, rapes, falls and vehicle crashes.
4. Most teens get their drugs from home, older brother or sisters or close friends.
5. One person dies per day from alcohol poisoning.
6. Most parents discover their child’s illegal drug use long after their child’s drug use patterns are established (usually in middle school years).
7. The big primary drugs used by teens are alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes, pills and inhalants.
8. Parents cannot stop their child from using drugs.
9. Once your child is on the drug roller coaster ride, it affects the whole family and it is hard to get off.
10. The more popular and “cool” your child is, the higher the risk of illegal drug use.

So what should parents do? SUBHEAD
Here are some simple things:
1. The parents’ job is to provide their child with information about illegal drug use and to make it hard for them to experiment or use. (You can’t stop your child from using drugs.)
2. Start early, sixth and seventh grade is when many children start their experimentation.
3. Be informed — gather as much information as you can on teen drug use. There is an abundance of material available online and at your local library.
4. Remind your child often that you will be watching and checking.
5. Watch their peer groups for changes (peer groups have a great influence).
6. Know where they are at all times and always have a parent/adult present (talk with the adult and make sure no alcohol or drugs are present).
7. Check up on them, search their room, backpack and have them kiss you good night when they come home (smell test).
8. Be less worried about trust and being your child’s friend and more about holding your children accountable and giving them reasons for not using.
9. Make your actions match your words. If you don’t want them to drink, then you stop!
10. The older your child gets the louder and more frequent the message. Once they are out of your house at school or living on their own you have little control or input.
Parents might not be able to stop the ultimate fate of their child, but they can have an immediate and long-term effect on their child’s social and emotional skills and their behaviors. They can affect their children’s ability to make decisions and reduce the risks that teenagers face each day. Do not let the media, teen social norms, or peers dictate your child’s behavior. Now is the time to start having a positive effect on your child.

For comments or questions, Fred Becker can be reached at fbbecker@sbcglobal.net

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