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Inspiring Success on the Road to Recovery

Monday, February 29, 2016

KEEPING THEM SAFE

AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FOR ALL PARENTS FROM THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE OF YOUTH, FAITH and FAMILY

By Deborrah Miller, MEd.

When Governor Doug Ducey announced the appointment of Debbie Moak as director of the Governor's Office of Youth, Faith and Family (GOYFF) last year, he began a new direction for the State in addressing Substance Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Recovery. “Every one of us knows someone who has experienced or been impacted by substance abuse or addiction,” said Governor Ducey.  “If we’re going to be successful in our efforts to combat this disease, we must remove the stigma and eliminate community denial about what addiction is and who it affects. It’s time to turn the discussion to prevention, early intervention and treatment.”

As Director of GOYFF, Debbie Moak brings 16 years of experience working with parents and youth regarding substance abuse. She and her staff, took Governor Ducey’s message, and developed a family guide, “Keep Them Safe” to assist parents with beginning the conversation with their youth regarding prevention and early intervention of substance use.


Ms. Moak is a mother who faced her own son’s addiction. As the co-founder of the non-profit organization, www.notMYkid.org, Ms. Moak created prevention-based programs for six behavioral health issues facing children, including substance abuse, bullying, dating violence, internet safety, depression and eating disorders. Additionally, Ms. Moak has personally presented substance abuse education programs to thousands of parents and faculties in Arizona, as well as several other states and internationally in Scotland, Thailand and Guatemala. She has spearheaded two national annual awareness campaigns educating hundreds of thousands of adults and their children in cities across the United States.

“One of the most important things that any parent will do this year is to prevent their child from using drugs,” stated Ms. Moak. She wants parents to know that they have the ability to prevent drug use. With the practical education, communication skills and recognizing the warning signs of substance abuse, parents really can prevent drug use from occurring in their child’s life. While it’s not always easy to talk with children and teens, the time and effort invested now is much easier than a lifetime of addiction.

Prevention is the only 100% safe and effective treatment.


Parents need to talk with their children often. “I think we need to be open, but at the same time age appropriate,” Ms. Moak said. “Make sure the conversations stay focused on the child, not you.” Ninety percent of all addiction occurs because of what happens during the teen years. That’s the statistic parents really need to hear, says Ms. Moak. She also advises parents not to wait until a crisis to intervene in their child’s life. That is why our office has developed the “Keep Them Safe” brochure and the Family Prevention Substance Abuse Plan; we want to provide the tools necessary for parents to have a successful, realistic conversation and plan to address substance use and abuse. With a plan, open and on-going dialogue, we need to prevent first substance use.

Talk to Each Other

Good communication between parents and children is the foundation of strong families. By developing good communication skills, parents can often catch problems early, support positive behavior and stay involved with their children’s lives. Talking with your child about substance use should be a process, not a single event.  New opportunities and temptations are on-going and, unfortunately, with increasing frequency as your child enters adolescence and the teenage years. “You are your child's most important role model and their best defense against substance abuse. Start early and answer the questions about drugs before they are asked,” said Moak. Research shows that children who hear the facts about drugs and alcohol from their parents are significantly less likely to use them.
Parents are often reluctant to start this conversation, so how does a parent address or begin the conversation? Parents need to gather their thoughts before approaching their sons or daughters, says Moak. They should have a plan to keep the conversation going, be honest and rational, and be completely clear that you do not want them using drugs and alcohol. Moak suggests that parents be calm and patient; control your thoughts and actions; listen with respect; avoid lengthy responses that may be perceived as a lecture; repeat what your child has said to be sure you understand what your child is saying; and if necessary, take a break and come back to the conversation at a planned later time.

Children feel more comfortable bringing issues and situations to their parents when they know they will be heard and not accused. Listening means paying special attention to what is said, both verbally and non-verbally.

Why is it difficult for parents to open up this conversation? 

Many parents are hesitant to start the conversation because they are afraid that they’ll be asked about their own prior drug use, says Moak. Despite their intentions to convey anti-substance-use messages, parent's discussion of their prior use may in some ways downplay the emphasis on the negative consequences of using substances. Knowing that their parents tried substances may actually normalize this behavior for youth and make it seem okay, thereby making youth think their parents wouldn't really disapprove of them using substances and thinking that more kids around them do use.
Moak suggested these strategies to use when your child asks about your past:
In your child’s world, drugs are readily available and much more powerful than the ones you experimented with when you were young. Your focus should be with what your child is facing, and how you can assist them. Keep the conversation centered on them and the dangers of today’s drugs.

Get educated on the drugs that may be around your youth today and use the correct terms or slang they may hear. In short, stay credible.

You should say something like, “The thing that matters is what lies ahead of you, not what is in the past. I want to help you focus on what drugs can do to you and your future.” Or, “The past has taught me some valuable lessons, but we’re not going to focus on me, we’re going to focus on your future and what you can achieve by not using drugs.”

Avoid giving your child more information than she or he asked for, you can say too much. You should say something like, “Everybody makes mistakes. Using drugs is a big one. Nothing good comes from drug use. I love you too much to watch you make bad decisions.” Or, “Drugs affect everyone differently. Even if drugs didn’t ruin my life, I’ve seen them ruin other people’s lives. And I don’t want you to be someone whose life was ruined by drugs.”

It’s a parent’s job to use love and experience to correct mistakes and poor choices. By using a mix of praise and criticism, you can correct your child’s behavior without saying your child is bad. This helps children build self-confidence and learn how to make healthy and safe choices. In time, making smart choices, on their own will become easier. You should say something like. “Do you ever feel pressure to try drugs?”
Ms. Moak also suggests parents find out what their children already know. Ask your child, what have you heard about drugs at school or from your friends? Be sure to educate yourself, so you will be able to answer their questions. Remember, if you don’t know the answer, don’t guess. These discussions do not need to be long. Being clear about your expectations and asking your children’s opinions can take only a few moments. Boundaries help a child feel secure, loved and supported.

By using any opportunity to have a conversation, Ms. Moak believes that parents can easily take advantage of "teachable moments” to discuss drug use with their child. Teachable moments can happen while driving in the car, at the dinner table while discussing a situation at school or a current event in the news. If you see a character in a movie or on TV with a cigarette, talk about smoking addiction, and what smoking does to a person's body. This can lead into a discussion about other drugs and how they could cause harm. News, such as steroid use in professional sports, can be springboards for casual conversations about current events. Texting is an increasingly popular way for parents to communicate with their children. Send positive text messages to your child or follow up a conversation with a text that reinforces what you just talked about. Use these discussions to give your children information about the risks of drugs.

Monitoring your child’s activity is also very important says Moak. Research shows that children whose parents use effective monitoring practices are less likely to make poor decisions. Monitoring should start in early childhood and continue throughout the teen years. Know where your teen goes and who he or she hangs out with. Talk with your child about how he or she spends time or whether he or she is making safe choices.  It’s also important to routinely check potential hiding places for drugs—in backpacks, between books on a shelf, make-up cases, or light switches, etc.
Moak suggests that parents encourage other interests and social activities; look for ways to get your child involved in sports, hobbies, school clubs, and other activities that reduce boredom and excess free time.  Encourage positive friendships and interests, and look for activities that you and your child can do together. Helping youth engage in positive extra-curricular activities can pay lifelong benefits.
Talk to your child about underlying issues. Drug use can be the result of other problems says Moak. Is your child having trouble fitting in? Children need to learn that doing something they know is wrong is not a good way to “fit in” or feel accepted by others. Has there been a recent major change, like a move or divorce, which is causing stress?  If your child has the confidence, assertiveness, and strength to handle tough times, he or she will be less likely to try drugs, alcohol, and tobacco to feel better or to please friends.

Additionally, Ms. Moak is an advocate for using home drug test kits as a prevention or early intervention tool. These can help to deter first use and relieve some of the peer pressure placed on our youth. This can be one additional tool in a parents’ toolbox to protect their youth today.
Spend time with your child and get to know their friends and their friends’ parents. Children who feel a close bond with a parent or other adult are less likely to want to disappoint them. Encourage your child to be an independent thinker, praise them for having the courage to resist peer pressure and make wise choices. The more parents and other family members get involved in children’s lives, the more positive they will feel about themselves and the more likely they will be to respond favorably to their parents.

Set clear standards and expectations around all types of substance abuse. Family rules about substance abuse give children something to fall back on when they are tempted to make poor decisions. Provide your child with words and strategies to use to remove themselves from situations where they are offered drugs. Here are some examples of rules that parenting experts recommend: “If you’re at a party and you see that drugs or alcohol are being used, the rule is to leave that party. Call me and I’ll come and get you.” “I don’t want you using alcohol, tobacco or drugs.” “I love you and I want the best for you, so I don’t want you using marijuana or any other drug.”

Parents should not feel they need to do this on their own or alone, says Moak, ask for help. Raising children is complicated, and you may need help. Consider taking a parenting class or going to a family counselor. Hospitals and community centers often offer such classes.

In addition to the “Keep Them Safe” brochure and the Family Prevention Substance Abuse Plan, GOYFF has launched a website, www.SubstanceAbuse.az.gov. This website provides a Locator for use by anyone seeking help with prevention, treatment and recovery resources. By clicking on the Prevention, Treatment or Recovery box at the top of the site, and providing an Arizona zip code, users can find numerous state agencies and non-profits that can assist with their specific needs.
By utilizing the education tools and strategies provided in the “Keep Them Safe” brochure, as well as completing the Family Substance Abuse Prevention Plan, both parents and youth can make good decisions in the future to avoid substance use. As Joseph Califano once stated, “A child who reaches the age of 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually never to do so.” Ms. Moak stated, “For me, that’s the goal. I wish I had the opportunity to go back and get this right, but I don’t. Many of you reading this still have the opportunity to get this right.”

The Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family is committed to instilling a proactive approach to teen and parenting issues by raising awareness through educational programs like “Keep Them Safe”.

In February 2015, Governor Doug Ducey announced the appointment of Debbie Moak as Director of the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family (GOYFF). Debbie is co-founder of the non-profit organization, NotMYkid and for more than three decades, has been doing exceptional work to educate, inspire and empower youth, families and communities in Arizona.