Looking at all the news about substance use in Greater Nashua can be overwhelming. One may choose a state of denial and say, “Not my kid,” or we can make the choice to be proactive. Drugs are and always have been a problem. From alcohol to marijuana (yes, marijuana is a drug, not a medicine) to heroin and other opiates, these substances have been around for a long, long time and probably are not going anywhere anytime soon. As long as the demand for illicit drugs is up, the supply will remain steady.
So, what can a family and community do to protect our kids? How do we help those who have already started using? How do we reduce supply and demand of illicit substances in our community? I’m not sure there are any easy answers about substance use prevention, simply because kids are pulled in so many directions for so many different reasons. I do, however, think it starts with listening. We need to actively listen to our kids, even when they are not “talking.”
We need to know and engage in “Protective Factors” that can guide our children in the right direction. One of the best ones that you can provide is a strong parent-child bond. Here are some helpful tips:
- Make time for family time. Quality family time is a powerful protective factor. While not always easy to attain with busy schedules, anyone who has adult children realizes the value of family time, especially those who missed it. Children grow quickly and once they leave the nest you can never recoup that time. So make the time while you can and know that it could make the difference in whether your child chooses to engage in substance use or not.
- Communicate openly and respectfully. Understand that “transition times” (changing schools, moving, or parents divorcing) can be times of risky behaviors, and assure your child that you are always there to help. Talk to your child and make a plan you both agree can be used if they find themselves in an uncomfortable or unsafe situation. Always let them know that you don’t want them getting into a vehicle with someone who has been drinking or using drugs.
- Connect your child to role models. Take advantage of other role models in your family or community who can inspire your child. Networking through their development years encourages them to strive to do good things.
- Set Rules and Consequences. Many studies cite children’s concern about disappointing their parents as the number one reason for not doing drugs. Set appropriate rules and consequences and make your expectations clear. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has some great mobile apps that you can download to use when talking to your kids about alcohol and other drugs. Visit http://www.samhsa.gov/underage-drinking and look for Talk. They Hear You, which includes parent resources and other great guides.
- Positive Activities, School, and Community Connectedness are also important protective factors. Prevention programming in schools is somewhat limited due to lack of funding; however, staying involved in school and community-based activities helps build a child’s self-esteem and creates a feeling of belonging. Engaging your child in faith-based and/or community service activities is one of the most beneficial activities for positive youth development. These types of exposures often create a form of cooperative learning experience that has the potential to result in problem solving, self-efficacy and resilience, all of which are protective factors. If children possess the attributes previously mentioned, they develop positive coping strategies to draw on when life throws them a curve ball – all substance use prevention mechanisms.
With all that said, there are occasions when your child may choose to use drugs, even when you’ve done everything right. There are peer pressures and influences that you may not be aware of and beyond your control. You know your child better than anyone else and if you suspect your child may be using, it is important that you find out, get them help, and never, ever give up. The earlier someone receives treatment, the less likely they are to become addicted, which is where the real problems come in. To find a treatment provider in your area visit: http://nhtreatment.org/.
The Nashua Prevention Coalition is committed to delaying the onset and reducing substance use among youth in the Nashua area. We cannot do it alone, however, and are always looking for parents and community leaders who are as passionate about keeping our youth healthy as we are. For more information on how you can become involved, please visit www.NashuaCares.org or attend one of our meetings. We meet on the first Wednesday of every month at United Way (20 Broad St., Nashua), lower level conference room, from 3 to 4:30 PM, and the next meeting is April 1. We would love to hear from you.
Monica Gallant is Project Coordinator for the Nashua Prevention Coalition. United Way of Greater Nashua is the coalition’s fiscal agent.