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Preventing Your Teen from Using Drugs: It’s All About Persuasion

Thu, 06/25/2015 - 10:58am

How can parents prevent their kids from using drugs? Guest blogger Theodore Caputi, president and founder of the Student Leader Union, suggests making it personal.

“Prevention is all about persuasion.”

I heard this nugget of wisdom at a training seminar for prevention professionals. It represents a paradigm shift in the way substance abuse professionals approach prevention – one that has been supported by years of research, but is still not implemented by many prevention providers.

Think about it. Much of drug and alcohol programming focuses on education. I could not tell you how many boring lectures I have endured about the street names for PCP, the difference between depressants and stimulants and the strange and clever ways people ingest drug. That’s certainly education – I have learned that marijuana can be inhaled, digested or absorbed through the skin – but it certainly has not persuaded me to change my behavior.

The truth is, we don’t need to spend much time giving kids the “facts” on drugs. Most young people already know that “weed” is a street name for marijuana or that long-term heavy drinking can lead to alcoholism. Instead, we need to persuade kids to either reduce or refuse drug use.

Of course, not all forms of persuasion are equally effective.

Persuasion in drug education usually boils down to a discussion about the health consequences of drugs. Kids are told that their lungs will turn black if they smoke tobacco, that they’ll have liver failure if they drink too much and that they may overdose from prescription painkillers. True, that is persuasion – teaching young people the consequences of substance use is an attempt to tip the scale in favor of not using.

From my perspective, however, this is a common example of flawed marketing. Adults typically create and implement prevention programs, and so they communicate in terms that adults care about: namely, health.

But kids take their good health for granted. I am a health researcher, and I am writing this post while eating Oreos and sipping on a Red Bull. I know that Oreos and Red Bull will hurt me in the long run –  but I’m 20 years old, and my long-term health is not keeping me up at night.

We need to communicate prevention in terms that kids understand and appreciate, and we need young people to understand that drugs and alcohol will interfere with things they personally care about.

In the words of Harvard Marketing Professor Theodore Levitt, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want to buy a quarter-inch hole!” Prevention providers need to stop selling the drill and start selling the hole.

But, if not health, what do young people care about?

This is the tricky part. Different kids care about different things, and prevention should seek to engage everyone.

Therefore, I argue that, as a part of prevention, we should have teens develop their own, personal short- and long-term goals. Teens will begin thinking about what they want to do and accomplish, and discuss how drugs and alcohol can interfere with their specific grand plans.

Perhaps best of all, this technique will help teens beyond just prevention. Teens will gain leadership and planning skills – both of which are worthwhile even without the prevention element. And of course, prevention providers and parents can finally measure what students do – whether that be starting a chess club, making the varsity basketball team or getting an A in AP English – instead of what they don’t do.

This technique worked well in my own life. My parents did not spend much time lecturing me or my brother on the health effects of drugs. Instead, my mother spoke to us in terms of our goals. “When you’re young,” she said, “all the doors of opportunity are wide open, and you can do anything you want or become anyone you want.” But she warned, “Mistakes along the way, like drug and alcohol use, close some of those doors, and you’ll miss the opportunities you once had.” Every time I was offered a drink in high school, I could hear the thud of a door slamming shut and refused.

Persuasion is key to making prevention work. So let’s make the argument for prevention more persuasive. Show young people that drug and alcohol use will hinder their goals and dreams, and we can increase the effectiveness of our prevention efforts.


Start a conversation with your teen about drugs that gets her thinking about her own goals and dreams. Try asking your teen these questions:

“What would make doing drugs a big deal for you?”

This gets your teen to think about the future, what her boundaries are around drug use and what would make it “a big deal.” It will give you insight into what is important to her. If use progresses and some of these boundaries are crossed, you can then bring that up at a later date.

“What are some things that keep you from using drugs?”

This is a question that makes your teen think about the reasons why she doesn’t want to use drugs. It allows her to think about what drugs would interfere with if she did use.

For ways to have meaningful, productive conversations with your teen about marijuana, download our free Marijuana Talk Kit.

How have you talked to your teens about drugs? Please share in the comment section below.

Theodore Caputi is a student at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He is interested in the intersection between youth engagement and substance abuse prevention. Theodore is the president and founder of the Student Leader Union, an organization that provides leadership education to middle and high-school students in the Philadelphia area. He has interned at the Treatment Research Institute, where he sits on the Institutional Review Board, and serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for the Bucks County (Pennsylvania) Drug & Alcohol Commission.


The post Preventing Your Teen from Using Drugs: It’s All About Persuasion appeared first on Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

Categories: Bup Feeds

Dads & “Manhood” – Finding a Balance

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 4:26pm

This post was written by Heather Senior, LCSW, who oversees the Parent Support Network at the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

What does it mean to be a man today? To their kids, dads are the archetype or role model for what a man can be. That’s why it is important think about what how you or the dads in your life embody manhood.

Dads are often labeled as “problem-solvers” and “fixers,” rather than “nurturers” or “givers.” But men don’t always have to play the tough guy. In fact, this could do more harm to your child than good.

Let’s put ourselves in a child’s shoes for a moment: what would it feel like to a kid if the word “dad,” in addition to more traditional labels, was also associated with kindness, nurturing and openness? What if “dad” evoked thoughts of a person who is easy to talk to, emotionally available, communicative, encouraging, gentle and loving? Are those traits less masculine? Or would living those words make one’s child more open to talking about what is going on with him when he’s feeling vulnerable or having a problem?

Here are five tips to help you (or the dad in your family) be more approachable, more human and more available to your child.

  1. Listen, rather than jump to a quick solution. When your child comes to you with a problem, it’s more important to listen and make him feel heard than to try and fix it or give him an immediate solution. Instead of jumping past feelings into action, try sitting together and working through a problem. This process teaches him how to tolerate difficult emotions, which promotes resilience. When you take the time to lend an ear and listen to the whole story, your child becomes more comfortable feeling vulnerable in front of you, which in turn builds trust. The process of listening to and working through distress with your child will also teach him how to access and use these skills when other difficult issues arise down the line.
  1. Solve problems with your child – not for him. It is important to work together with your kid, helping him come up with his own solution, rather than supplying him with one. Your guidance will teach your child how to think through problems. Your child can then take responsibility for the good solution he came up with, which builds self-esteem. Working through problems in this way promotes collaboration and builds confidence that will be applied to future situations.
  1. Step out of your comfort zone. It may be easier for you to show up to a soccer game and cheer for your child than to attend a poetry reading and tell your young poet how great he was. However, it is important to show your child that you support him no matter how he chooses to express himself, and that your support isn’t restricted to what you’re most comfortable with. Being there for your child’s important moments of all types shows unconditional love, and allows your kid to have the courage and confidence to pursue and live a life filled with activities he loves to do.
  1. Allow all emotions to be expressed.  Social norms teach girls that anger isn’t pretty, and that boys should be tough and not cry. If your boy can’t feel comfortable expressing vulnerability and sadness with you, to whom can he turn? If your girl feels that anger is unacceptable and she is unable to express it in a safe and healthy way, how will that manifest down the road? Too often, by suppressing these true feelings, they get turned inwards and lead to self-destructive behaviors later on. Allowing your children to feel, identify and work through the spectrum of emotions teaches them distress tolerance and emotional acceptance.
  1. Lead by example.  Think about the behavioral responses and coping skills you want to teach your children so that they can deal with stress and difficult emotions and then implement them. Instead of pouring yourself a drink at the end of a long day, you may want to go on a run or do something you enjoy that helps you decompress. Modeling healthy behavior is the greatest way to show your kids what a mature adult should look like: namely, you!

What does fatherhood –or “manhood” – mean to you? Share in the comments section below.

The post Dads & “Manhood” – Finding a Balance appeared first on Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

Categories: Bup Feeds

Happy Father’s Day. Thanks For Never Giving Up On Me, Dad.

Wed, 06/17/2015 - 10:46am

Dear Dad,

Ever since I can remember, you’ve been my hero. From carrying me to the hospital after I fell and cracked my head in New York City while eating ice cream to lending me your shoulder to cry on when I broke up with my college sweetheart, you’ve been by my side through it all.

Most of all, you never gave up on me during my battle with drug addiction. I know this was no small feat for you, but you persevered where others would have easily given up. Despite all the times I said I hated you and the doors I slammed in your face when I was at my worst, never once did you turn your back on me and leave. In fact, you always went the extra mile to ensure that I was safe, even if at the time I didn’t realize it was for my best.

From taking me to countless doctors’ appointments, to refusing to let me go out with friends or when you grounded me for stealing alcohol from our house, and even the times you called the police to get me out of a dangerous situation with bad people. You refused to let me fall deeper into the grips of my addiction, and I know without a doubt that without you in my life I would have surely reached the point of no return in my disease.

My path of destruction came to a halt and I was able to receive the professional care I needed because you helped me to enter long-term treatment. Despite my kicking, crying and screaming, you always remained patient and empathetic to what I was going through. Today, I am clean and sober in large part because of your refusal to give up on me.

Recovery is no easy path, and we both know that it hasn’t always been smooth sailing in the years since I got clean. I have character flaws that I’m still working on, and there are days where I admittedly lose sight of your compassion and generosity.

So, this Father’s Day, I want to recognize you and the amazing fact that everything you do, you do because you love me. I know that all that you want is for me to be happy and healthy.

I may not say it enough, but I am truly grateful for all that you have done and continue to do for me, day in and day out, I would not be alive and well today if it weren’t for you. It is an honor to be able to call you my dad.

My advice for other fathers out there (and to parents in general), is to never, ever give up on your child with a drug or alcohol problem. You may likely come to a point where you have lost hope and feel as though there is nothing more you can possibly do. But I assure you, just as my father did, there is always something more that can be done to help your child.

One great place to start is the Partnership for Drug Free Kids’ helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE (1-855-378-4373). Our trained specialists will listen to your concerns, help you outline a course of effective action and inform you of different resources available to you.

Thanks, Dad, for everything. I hope that this message of the strength and courage you displayed in the face of my addiction will serve to inspire other parents in similar situations with their own children.

Do you have any reflections this Father’s Day? Please share in the comments section below.

Sofia Capria is currently an intern at the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. She is spending her summer in New York City before heading to London where she will receive her Masters of Science in Addiction Studies. Previously, Sofia worked closely with the Partnership on the Medicine Abuse Project. She will soon be celebrating seven years in recovery.

The post Happy Father’s Day. Thanks For Never Giving Up On Me, Dad. appeared first on Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

Categories: Bup Feeds

When Your College Kid’s Home for the Summer

Fri, 06/12/2015 - 9:05am

Has your college kid moved back home for the summer? Your family is likely thrilled to have her under your roof again, but may be experiencing a bit of tension, fueled by your undergrad’s emotional state.

Perhaps she’s struggling with her loss of independence, missing college friends, disappointed that high-school friendships aren’t what they used to be, uninspired at her summer job, frustrated to have to follow your rules or just really, really bored.

We asked parenting expert Sue Scheff to help parents better understand the state of mind of their living-at-home-again college student, and how they might help their child best cope and stay healthy and safe during this time of transition. She shared four things to keep in mind.

1. Your child is probably a bit anxious about being home.

Teenagers usually go off to college with a sense of excitement about the prospect of being on their own. It’s often their first taste of freedom from their parent. Your teen has spent a year in a more unstructured and unsupervised environment. She has new friends you probably don’t know. It was a year of growth for her and, in reality, you may not know your child as well as you used to.  Now she’s coming home to a family that expects her to be the same person she was when you dropped her off at school almost a year earlier.  For all of these reasons, it’s common for her to be a bit anxious about coming home.

One way to ease your teen’s anxiety is to talk with her about what she’s going through. Remain calm, and really listen to what she has to say. Put yourself in her shoes and try to think about how you felt when you were her age. Remember to ask lots of open-ended questions (questions designed to elicit more than just a “yes” or “no” response) that keep conversations moving in the right direction.

2. Establish mutual respect by discussing the rules together

Respect is a two-way street.  Make it clear that you’ll respect her independence and will make allowances as she is now maturing into an adult, however, she has to respect your household rules too.  Instead of getting caught up in a power play, remain calm and curious and treat her with the respect she wants in return.

As soon as your college kid arrives home, sit down and negotiate the household rules and what you expect from her.  Be sure to discuss curfews, chores, if you expect her to get a summer job, as well as your feelings about drinking and substance use. Instead of lecturing, have a conversation, respect her opinion and let you’re her feel heard. You don’t have to agree to her every request, but giving her a voice will make her feel understood.

Wondering how to talk to your teen about marijuana? Download our Marijuana Talk Kit to find out.

Also, use this as an opportunity for your teen to establish what she expects from you in return regarding her own personal wishes. Having an immediate conversation at the beginning of the summer can prevent confrontations during her stay at home.

3.  Help your child learn coping skills

Your teen may be struggling to figure out where she belongs. Her friends may have changed, and maybe things aren’t exactly the way she thought they would be. Having a conversation with a sense of understanding and compassion can let her know you are on her side.

Whatever it is she’s facing, help her understand that not everything in life will go the way we want it to.  Learning healthy coping skills is an important part of being an adult. And using alcohol or drugs to cope with emotional pain is not a solution.

Show your concern and ask permission to help her find healthy alternatives to dealing with difficult feelings than turning to drugs. Sit down with your teen and have her make a list of positive skills to implement in her day-to-day life while at home. This could be whatever she enjoys, including sports, yoga, listening to music, hiking, dancing or even trying out a new activity. Volunteering is a great way to fill time and give back to others, and also instills self-esteem to help make better choices.

However, it’s important to stay alert to possible mental health issues. Between the ages of 18 and 25 are when a lot of disorders, like anxiety, can develop. There is a strong link between mental and physical health issues and the use of drugs and alcohol. Be sure to find mental health resources for your child if needed.

4. If she’s drinking and using drugs.

If you suspect your teen has a substance abuse problem, call the Partnership’s Toll-Free Helpline (1-855-DRUGFREE) to speak with a trained specialist.

Here are expert tips on what to do if you know your 19-25-year-old is using.

Don’t overlook the prescription drugs in your home, which teens often have easy access to and can abuse. Be sure your prescription medicines are secured and that expired/unused medicines in your home are properly disposed of.

It is important to note that car crashes are the leading cause of death for US teens. And, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is the deadliest for drivers ages 15-20. Drinking and driving, and texting while driving, are incredibly dangerous. Make it clear to your child this behavior is unacceptable, and that if she needs a ride or help getting out of a situation, you are there for her.

Lastly, remind her that you love her and care about her and are there to talk about these – or any other – issues that she’s dealing with. It’s not all about the topic of drinking, drug use and safety – it’s about maintaining a generally healthy, supportive relationship. Your child needs to know that if any problems or difficult situations arise, she can always turn to you for help –  whether she’s away at college or back at home.

Thank you to Sue Scheff for her sharing her insights. Sue is an author, parent advocate and cyber advocate. As founder and president of Parents’ Universal Resource Experts Inc. (P.U.R.E., 2001), Sue is concerned with parents helping parents and promoting awareness of cyberbullying and other online issues. Sue uses her own personal experiences to assist other parents who face the same challenges she faced while searching for a reliable program for her own daughter during her troubled teenage years. Over the past decade, P.U.R.E. has gained both national and international recognition for its success in helping thousands of parents locate safe and effective therapeutic schools and programs for their at-risk teens.

And special thanks to Grayson Ponti for his help in preparing this post.


The post When Your College Kid’s Home for the Summer appeared first on Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

Categories: Bup Feeds