Parenting For Prevention

This page aims to help parents to help their children to remain drug-free – to say ‘no’ to drugs.

Research has shown that about 50% of young people have tried illegal drugs – but, less than 20% go on to use drugs more than once or twice. So 80% of our youth do not do drugs.

Parents remain the most important influence on their children – with peers, the media and school also having an effect. We believe parents should know at least as much as their children about drugs – and we believe that parents ‘can make a difference’.

How do I start Parenting for Prevention?

Choose ‘teachable moments’ to discuss drugs and alcohol – instigate a discussion (not a lecture) around a TV programme, news story or advertisement… talk about how the media portrays smokers and drinkers as smart, beautiful sophisticated and compare this to reality.

Ensure that your children realise that not ‘everybody’ is doing drugs and drinking. We know that if adolescents perceive drugs use to be more prevalent than it really is they are more likely to try drugs themselves – so set them right!

Improve your listening skills. Watch for body language, give non-verbal encouragement, use the right tone of voice to encourage children to share their worries, do not use sarcasm and do not humiliate the child.

When discipline is necessary remember to criticise the action, not the child. Try to make any punishment appropriate to the behaviour – for example coming home later than expected could mean the curfew being earlier the next week. Think carefully before declaring what any discipline is to be – and stick to it.

Build self-esteem – set realistic targets, give real responsibility, praise any achievements or improvements – especially if the child does not make the A grade!

How important is family policy?
Studies have shown that children want and need structure in their lives. They behave more responsibly when parents set reasonable limits. It is important to have boundaries and values – the phrase “that behaviour is totally unacceptable in this family” can be used from a very young age. Adolescents may kick against boundaries (“come on Dad, everyone else is going to the all-night party”, “oh Mum everyone else is wearing see-through blouses” etc.) – but parents need to be firm once boundaries have been established. It is perfectly acceptable to say that, for example, the time for coming home at night can be later by arrangement for special occasions and can be reviewed every six months.

A strong family value system can help a child refuse offers of drugs. “My Dad would go ape/kill me/ground me for a year if I did…” or “my Mum would be really upset – I just can’t”. Instilling a belief system and standards that the whole family live up to can be a potent protective force when the adolescent faces problems in the outside world.

Children need to know from an early age that there will be consequences if they infringe family rules. But remember – for every piece of criticism you should try to praise at least twice! Children thrive and blossom with praise and are never too old for plenty of hugs.

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Make you children strong and resilient

Build self-esteem. The experience of being respected by others and having their feelings and needs taken seriously helps a child to accept themselves.

Dealing with conflicts. Teach that conflicts can be solved by negotiation. Teach how to resist peer pressure – and how to use peer pressure constructively.

Independence. Encourage children to be independent – to be competent in various actions. This could start by giving them a stool to reach the basin and letting them clean their teeth, to teaching them how to travel to school by bus instead of by car. Give them pocket money and let them spend it how they wish – but no topping up if they spend it all at in one day. Give them a small allowance when older and let them buy their own clothes. Youth hostelling week-ends with friends can be fun and help to foster independence.

Fulfilment. Encourage music, sports, collecting, hobbies, uniformed clubs, conservation work etc. Young people who are very involved in a social life through these activities are much less likely to drift into drug use through boredom or curiosity. A strong, self-reliant and confident child can say ‘no’ on their own accord.

Remember – Prevention Works!

What else do I need to know?
Educate yourself (and your children) on drugs and the harmfulness of drug use. (We can provide a book list if you write to us with an S.A.E. We also run 8-week video based Parenting for Prevention courses). Be alert to the signs and symptoms of drug use.

Keep communication lines open, talk with not at your child.

Know your child’s friends – and their parents. Phone the parents of your child’s friends if you are concerned about any behaviour – they may also be worried. Discuss action all families can take as a team. Be aware of the pro-drug culture.

Quick tips…

Set clear standards of behaviour. Be consistent. Hold your child responsible for their actions. Correct constructively if necessary. Affirm the good in them and praise often.

Be alert to the attitudes and interests of your child and of their friends.

Help to provide meaningful, thoughtful and unselfish activities. Young people are idealistic and like to feel needed and useful by taking part in service oriented projects.

Teach good communication and coping skills. Teach them to think before they act. Talk about your feelings and beliefs and encourage them to do the same.

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10 Principles of parenting
1. Love abundantly and hug often.
2. Discipline constructively.
3. Spend time together as a family.
4. Teach right from wrong.
5. Listen wholeheartedly.
6. Foster independence.
7. Be realistic.
8. Praise at least twice as often as your criticise.
9. Offer guidance and share experiences.
10. Talk with rather than at your child.

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What should I look for? – The signs and symptoms
Many parents are worried that their child may begin to use drugs. There are stories in the media which swing from shock, horror, addiction and death to so-called debates about the legalisation of cannabis – which is said by some to be harmless.

What are parents to believe? They are right to be concerned – drug use should be taken very seriously. This leaflet sets out to give some factual information for parents – about the signs and symptoms of use and also about prevention of drug use.

Sometimes parents will notice things which on their own mean nothing – but the following things have all been recognised by parents whose child has subsequently been found to be using drugs.

Phone Calls. Teenagers and the telephone usually mean long phone calls – does your child hang around’ the phone sometimes and pick it up as soon as it rings… replies very briefly and then leaves the house – returning after a short time. This can often be a dealer friend phoning to say that they are nearby with some drugs.

Bedrooms. Do you often find the windows open even on cold days ? Lots of air-freshener being used? This can be to disguise the smell of cannabis being smoked in the room.

Money. Does your child never seem to have money nowadays? Do you notice that valuable things seem to be missing – cameras, jewellery etc. Drug users often sell items to buy drugs – at first their own but later they may steal from the family.

Language. Users do not speak of “using drugs” – they will say someone “does drugs” – watch for words like gear, deals, straight, clean, munchies, clucking, – and slang terms for drugs.

If you are worried that your child may be involved with drugs it is important not to ignore matters. Of course it is better to try to prevent use – and research has shown the following:

Parents who are too strict or too easy-going are more likely to have children who use drugs. Firm, fair and age-appropriate discipline is best.

Families should eat together and have regular family meetings’ where things like holidays, pocket-money, chores, curfew times are discussed. Each family member should be allowed to contribute and should be listened to.

Any infringement of agreed rules (such as home by 11.00 p.m.) should be dealt with in a consequential way. Punishments should be made to fit the incident. From babyhood parents should agree together on standards of behaviour – if you say it you must mean it!

Celebrate and praise! Parents should have a simple rule of thumb – for each time you need to criticise you should subsequently praise at least twice for behaviour which you want repeated. Celebrate any small improvements and see the child blossom.

Is your child less responsible … comes home from school late, forgets family occasions, ignores requests to help with chores, uses bad language, becomes argumentative and tells parents “don’t hassle me” ?

Clothes, music, hair styles … do they now wear totally different clothes and hair styles …listen to different music, become less interested in academic work and demand permission to stay out later and to have more ‘privacy’?

Is communication more difficult… does your child refuse to talk about new friends, go ‘out’ without saying where they are going; tend to defend the ‘recreational’ use or legalisation of drugs when the topic is discussed on TV or radio; declares teachers are unfair; defends the ‘rights’ of children and talk about the ‘bad habits’ of adults who use alcohol or smoke cigarettes?

Physical changes … has your child lost weight, changed sleep patterns – cannot sleep till early hours of morning, cannot wake up in the morning, increased appetite for sweet snacks, very thirsty, becomes very forgetful and seems to have lost all motivation for exams,or future careers?

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Some physical signs

The following brief physical symptoms may suggest the use of a variety of drugs. These symptoms may not effect everyone and are
dose and time dependant.

Hyper-activity and alertness amphetamine
Bloodshot eyes cannabis
Confusion, bizarre behaviour LSD
Compulsive behaviour amphetamine
Constipation heroin
Crawling sensations cocaine
Dreamy, introverted, head nodding heroin
Dreamy, spaced out, giggly, distorted perception of all senses especially time, hungry for sweet things, slow thinking cannabis
Depression amphetamine, LSD
Dilated pupils (sometimes) amphetamine, cocaine, LSD
Dry mouth, great thirst amphetamine, cannabis
Flushed (sometimes) amphetamine, heroin
Loss of co-ordination solvents, LSD, cannabis
Frequent urination amphetamine
Increased appetite cannabis
Loss of appetite amphetamine
Insomnia amphetamine
Nausea cannabis
Pin-prick pupils heroin
Paranoia amphetamine, cannabis, cocaine
Skin pallor solvents, cannabis
Restless/talkative amphetamine
Rapid, repetative speech amphetamine
Rhinitis (running nose) heroin
Sweating heroin, amphetamine
Shaking heroin, cocaine, LSD

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Alternative signs of drug use
Parents of young drug users have told us that a combination of the following ‘alternative signs and symptoms’ may be very indicative of use:

Drug slogans on clothes (see related article “What does 420 mean?”)

Pro-drug posters on walls of bedroom.

Jokes and conversations about drugs.

Agrees with legalisation of drugs.

Uses ‘druggy’ words like stoned, gear, stash, high, hit, trip, fix, dry, busted, hooked, doing drugs, score, wrap, works.

Bedroom window often open even in chilly weather. Smell of air fresheners used to disguise the sickly sweet smell of cannabis.

Wears sunglasses a lot, uses eye drops and nasal sprays, loses weight, can’t sleep at night, oversleeps in the morning.

Oversize Rizla papers found in bedroom or clothing.

Friendship groups change – usually older. Parents are not introduced to new friends. Unknown people come to house but do not stay.
Child becomes secretive, often lies, moody and sullen.

Membership of sports clubs, uniformed groups etc. lapses. Wants to ‘party’ a lot and go to raves, clubs and pubs.

Stays out much later than requested, sometimes all night, tells parents ‘don’t hassle me’, behaves unreasonably.

Child becomes aggressive, quick temper. Demands privacy in bedroom – angry if room is tidied.

School/college grades drop noticeably. Homework/course work neglected, talk of leaving school/college to get a job.

Never has any money, borrows money, valuable personal possessions like rings, watch camera etc. disappear – “I’ve lent them to a friend”.
Money disappears from family members.

Relationships with family deteriorate. (Siblings often know of drug use but don’t tell).

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Why drugs are wrong
The misuse of drugs, legal or illegal, affects not only the user but those around them. It is essential that one looks at more than physical harm – and takes into account the consequences for other people; it is not ‘a victimless crime’.

Take, as a starting point, the WHO definition of ‘Health’ which encompasses Physical, Mental, Intellectual, Social, Emotional, Spiritual and Environmental; then see how each of these components of total health is affected by drug misuse….

Social – The loss of a sense of commitment or responsibility, and the drift out of education or employment; perhaps into petty crime, is part of the life story of too many drug users.

Mental – The use of powerful psychoactive drugs, particularly cannabis which is fat-soluble, can affect cerebral blood flow and cause damage to the brain. Psychoses are not unknown and clinical depression often results. There is currently concern that the use of Ecstasy may result in long term depression or a type of Alzheimers when users reach old age. Other drugs impact mental health.

Intellectual Damage – from heavy use of alcohol is widely known; current research indicates cannabis has serious effects on memory – and also impacts ability to think, learn and decide; vital to students.

Emotional – The breakdown of family and other relationships, anger, guilt, conflict and stress are much more common in users and in their families.

Spiritual – Drug rehabilitation clinics often find that problem drug users have lost any sense of spirituality; in seeking for something to fill an inner void they turn to drugs as the answer.

Environmental – We are part of an ecosystem; we can either be ‘takers’ or ‘givers’ – drug users set themselves apart from the non-using majority and are chemically influenced to ‘look after No.1’ first.

Physical – This is by far the most documented area; more and more research is showing the possible harm from the use of drugs – icluding tobacco, alcohol and cannabis. Fresh evidence is being collected and it is quite clear that the more we learn about drugs the more we realise their damaging impact on the body. (For more information, see NDPA Research and Cannabis Info sections of this website).

Definitions (within this context)

Drug – Any substance misused for psychoactive purposes.

Drug Misuse – The use of any illegal drug and the inappropriate use of any legal drug.

Appropriate – As defined by age circumstances or purpose of use.

Weasel Words

The euphemistic terms often used to cloud the drugs issue.

Experimental use – There is nothing scientific or controlled about drug misuse.

Recreational use – This word means something healthy; misusing drugs isn’t.

Soft drugs – The scientific body now rejects this misleading term.

Informed choice – When it comes to an illegal act, choice is not appropriate anymore than it is for theft or violence. Moreover, who is doing the informing? This needs close scrutiny.

Drug education – Should discourage use. Some materials are indifferent or even encourage drug use. And vet them carefully

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