To begin with, the need for preventing alcohol and other drug problems is clear when examining the statistics:
- Nearly 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die each year from underage drinking.
- In 2006, nearly 1,900 deaths involving people under the age of 21 were the result of alcohol-induced automobile collisions (up from 1,400 in 1999).
- 21 percent of the murders committed by young people were caused by alcohol.
- It is estimated that nearly 1 million nonfatal injuries each year are caused by underage drunk drivers. There are also approximately 1 million assaults committed by youth under the influence of alcohol; 40,000 cases of alcohol poisoning; and 5,100 injuries related to drunken suicide attempts by those under 21.
What do you say to your kids about drugs through your example? Do you present an underlying message that you think they are not so bad? Are your children seeing your attitude as one of indifference? What drugs do you take? Reaching for a Valium or misusing sleeping pills are all part of a drug-taking picture a child forms, and you are the central actor. Are you willing to give up such things so your child can be free of drug and alcohol problems?
Troubled kids almost always point out the problems of excess in their parents. They say things such as, “My father doesn’t drink, but you should see how much he eats. He’s no better than I am. I use drugs, and he uses food.” “My mother doesn’t drink, but every time there’s a crisis, she has to take some kind of pill. Why should she get on me if she has to have her own drugs?”
Whether it is excessive food, medication, or burying ourselves in our work, we parents must examine our compulsive behaviors. Our kids use them as part of a denial system that prevents change. But even more important, they model our bad behaviors.
The Best Alcohol Education
Kids are confronted with alcohol every day. It is a common topic of conversation at school and routine behavior for many kids in junior high and high school. So naturally, your children are going to be interested in your drinking behavior. They will watch clues that drinking is okay.
If you have been making mistakes in this area, it is not too late to stop and let your children see what it is like to start over. No lesson is more powerful than the example of an adult changing for the better.
The Power of a Positive Example
Many years ago Peter Marshall, former chaplain to the United States Senate, preached a sermon that had a profound influence on my (Jim’s) life. In his sermon, he told a story that helped me make a decision to abstain from all alcohol.
He told of a minister who was asked to make a patriotic address at a dinner attended by many prominent government and business officials. It was a swank affair, and cocktails were flowing freely. Mr. Jones, who sat immediately to the minister’s left, was greatly enjoying the alcohol. When Mr. Jones noticed the minister had an untouched glass of champagne in front of him, Mr. Jones stated, “Say, you haven’t touched yours. Why not? Guess I’m rude to mention it, but surely you haven’t any scruples against champagne?”
The minister replied, “No, you’re not rude to ask at all.” He went on to say, “I have a steady stream of people coming to my study who need help. Their lives are all messed up, and I guess you’d be surprised to know that most of them, in one way or another, have liquor involved in the mess. To drink this glass of champagne is no sin. However, because of so many who cannot control their alcohol use, I choose to be self-disciplined. I would never want anyone to justify his alcohol abuse by saying, ‘Well, the minister drinks.’ So I’ve chosen to abstain. It’s not a matter of sin, but rather of example.”
What Needs to Be Taught
Proverbs 22:6 tells us to train children in the way they should go, and when they are older, they will not turn from it. Is it any wonder we have such a high rate of alcohol and drug abuse when parents and kids spend so little time on the subject of training children? Children who have the best chance of not doing drugs or alcohol come from families that have taken the time to train them—and during the preteen and adolescent years, this is especially vital. If you can get children through those years drug free, their lives are almost guaranteed to be free from chemical abuse. Those who neither smoke nor drink as teenagers are mostly immune to later drug abuse. But parents who refuse to take the time to educate their children have a good chance of spending time trying to treat serious problems later.
The education part of a good drug-proof plan involves more than just knowing and teaching the facts about alcohol and drugs. Those are important elements, but the teaching must have a broader base, including the following three areas.
Responsible Versus Irresponsible Behavior
When I (Steve) first started working with drug addicts and alcoholics, I was amazed at the level of immaturity I saw. Many of these people told stories of how they stopped maturing when they started using drugs. Others told me they never learned to make decisions based on receiving rewards for good decisions and being disciplined for bad decisions. Many never had a model of responsible behavior, and even more were without someone to guide them toward it. So my job was to do for them what no parent had done before. I taught them the art of making responsible decisions. Don’t neglect this important task for your children.
For example, suppose my (Jim’s) daughter comes to me and asks, “Daddy, may I go to the beach with the Foster family today?”
I must help her see the whole picture, so I say, “You would have a great time at the beach with the Fosters. They’re some of our best friends, and you’re welcome to go with them most of the time. However, we’re having your sister’s birthday party at the same time. Which do you think is more important?”
My goal is to let her make the right decision on her own. However, I may well hear, “But Rebecca has all her friends coming to the party, and she really wouldn’t care if I wasn’t there.”
In that case, I may have to put my foot down and say, “Today you are not allowed to go with the Fosters because I believe it’s more important for our family to celebrate Rebecca’s birthday together.” Although I had to impose my will, I still introduced the concept of thinking and choosing logically, not just emotionally.
Social and Communication Skills
Many kids today use alcohol and tobacco as a means of connection and building community with each other. As a result, that places an even greater importance on the fact that parents must take the time to teach children, through instruction and by example, to socialize and communicate without chemical assistance. Kids need to be exposed to social situations from a young age and shown how to relate to others in a relaxed manner. The edge of awkwardness needs to be rubbed off by caring parents. A child will then have less need to find social success in a bottle or a pill.
Positive alternatives to drugs and alcohol also need to be implanted in kids’ minds. Parents can help a child find and develop some skill or talent so the child feels competent. Sports and the arts are good possibilities. They build self-esteem and fill time that might otherwise be used to do drugs.
The Dangers of Losing Control
One of the first people I (Steve) worked with was a girl who drank and used drugs. She was raped in a vacant house. Pregnancy, AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases, and automobile accidents are real consequences of losing control. Take time to explain the possible consequences of drug use to your children. If you don’t, they will see only the glamour of losing control as portrayed in movies and television.
All these areas of education form the foundation for prevention efforts that follow. Without education, the prevention efforts will fail.
Stephen Arterburn founded New Life Ministries, a broadcast, counseling, and treatment ministry. He hosts the syndicated New Life Live! radio program and has written more than 60 books, including the Every Man series and Healing is a Choice. He's won three Gold Medallions and holds degrees from Baylor and North Texas State Universities.
Jim Burns, Ph.D., founded HomeWord and hosts the radio program HomeWord with Jim Burns. The author of many resources, including Creating an Intimate Marriage and Parenting Teenagers for Positive Results, he has also won three Gold Medallion Awards. Jim holds degrees from Azusa Pacific University, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Greenwich School of Theology.