By Susan Lamontagne
Do you know the number one most successful parenting strategy to prevent kids from abusing drugs and alcohol? Pick one:
A. Remove all drugs and alcohol from the home, including Tylenol, and pretend they don’t exist.
B. Administer a Breathalyzer test every time your teen walks into your house.
C. Require teens to attend a lecture about drugs and alcohol before they attend a prom and then pat them down before they enter.
D. Be a raging alcoholic yourself and embarrass them so much they never want to touch the stuff.
The truth is none of these strategies have been proven effective. Meanwhile, parents search for a magic bullet to prevent our kids from abusing drugs and alcohol, or plain stupidity.
When my first son was born, we immediately started to “baby proof” our home. Bumpers on corners, locks on cabinets, gadgets to protect him from the toilet, it was getting ridiculous. My husband soon concluded that it would be easier and more affordable to “baby proof” the baby. “Let’s wrap him in bubble wrap,” he announced.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if bubble wrap was a realistic strategy to keep our children safe? Kids need to learn how to navigate sharp corners, steep drops, and hot stoves in life. These dangers come in all shapes and sizes, and some we don’t even see coming.
So how can we protect our children from making bad choices? Or worse, from becoming a post-prom fatality?
Last week, parents were given two choices in a prom survey issued by the school district:
Option a.) All students will be required to take a school-sanctioned bus to the event with enhanced security upon arrival or;
Option b.) Students may take their own transportation – typically a limo or party bus – to the event also with enhanced security procedures upon arrival.
Parents overwhelmingly voted to provide their own transportation, but were given no choice on the issue of “enhanced security.” What exactly does that mean? Pat downs and breathalyzers are under consideration. These tactics cross a line that treats our teens as if they are guilty until proven innocent.
Substance abuse experts I’ve spoken to agree that the best thing parents can do to prevent bad choices and substance abuse is to talk with their kids – early and often – about drugs and alcohol. There are plenty of opportunities to get these conversations started, such as when a celebrity overdoses or checks into rehab. Unfortunately, many parents don’t talk with their kids about sensitive topics, or don’t start until their kids are well into their teens, when it is simply too late. Most important, when having these conversations with our children, we need to listen.
I applaud the members of our board of education who did just that at a recent BOE meeting, and Jeff Nichols who had clearly encouraged the seniors to make their case. We also need to keep in mind that pat downs and breathalyzers are no substitute for open and honest education and discussion. If we up the ante with more invasive “security procedures,” teens can respond in kind, with more dangerous and less detectable substances.
Parenting is not a perfect science. And what may work for one child or family may not work for another. So let’s control our fears, promote more conversation, and put the fun back into prom. The evidence shows us that we parents need to have done our job well in advance of the prom. If not, there is nothing our school can do to save our children from themselves.
Susan Lamontagne is a health advocate and media consultant with Public Interest Media Group, Inc.