How to Get Kids Talking at the Dinner Table

June 23rd, 2016

Many parents, especially parents of older teens, oftentimes feel their kids don’t want to sit around the dinner table and talk to them. You can rest assured that this is actually not the case. At The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, we surveyed thousands of teens. Kids do, in fact, want to have family dinners. More than eight out of ten teens of all ages preferred to have dinner with their families. And what they want at dinner is to talk to you!

Try making talking about anything and everything part of your normal family routine, and establish that free exchange as early in life as possible. One great way to get kids talking at dinner is to use conversation starters. At your next family dinner try some of our conversation starters below.

For preteens:

  • What are the best and worst things that happened today?
  • What’s your favorite place in the house to hang out?
  • If you were in charge of the music for our family vacation, which songs would you pick?
  • Which TV show is the most fun to watch?
  • What do you like about your friends?
  • What’s your favorite amusement park ride?
  • What’s favorite toy or game?

For teens:

  • What values are most important to you?
  • Who’s the greatest athlete of all time?
  • What can each of us do to make the world a better place? What can we do as a family?
  • Did you see anything fun on YouTube today?
  • Who’s your favorite teacher and why?
  • What’s your favorite subject in school?
  • What’s your favorite pizza topping?

For even more great conversation starters check out our CASA Family Day Activity Kit. In addition, there’s also many other tips, games, and tools in our activity kit that can help you connect with your kids on a daily basis. All of these activities can help the dialogue between you and your child grow more each day, so that when it comes time to talk about nicotine, alcohol, and other drugs, it will feel more open, honest, and natural for everyone.

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Five Tips for Dads Who Would Like to Have A Better Connection With Their Kids

June 9th, 2016

This month we’re delighted to have Kenneth Braswell, Sr., Executive Director of Fathers Incorporated and Director of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, as our guest blogger. In honor of Father’s Day we’ve invited him to share some tips for dads who would like to have a better connection with their kids.

Check out the blog below!

As Father’s Day approaches many of us who are dads are preparing to take our day of celebration to the next level. Fathers have spoken. No more ugly ties, short lines at the restaurant or gifts we have to force ourselves to smile for. We believe we have come of age and demand Best Buy gift cards, new golf clubs and tickets to the Superbowl. A father can dream can’t he?

While these fathers have dreams of great gifts, others dads are simply worried about how they can make the day more meaningful. The reality is Father’s Day is still an occasion that stirs up a myriad of emotions in both dads and moms. I think we all have the desire to embrace the complete concept of family. Where we differ is in what we believe it should look like and how we achieve healthy families regardless of our personal relationships.

The Pew Research Center suggest as many of us would surmise that we still have some work to do on connecting fathers with their children. In an article, “Tale of Two Fathers: More Are Active, But More Are Absent[1],” Gretchen Livingston and Kim Parker reveal that fathers who live with their children are more engaging, however non-resident fathers still struggle with connection.

Fatherhood programs around the country are attempting to deal with the systemic issues that serve as barriers for families. In addition to these programmatic needs; relationship building and other communication skill challenges must also be addressed. As difficult as that may sound to overcome, there are some simple ways to begin a consistent path of connection with your children as a father. Here are a few ways.

  1. Technology – Social media is the tale of two cities, however used correctly it can serve as a great tool to remain connected to your children. Obviously the age of your children is a factor in this, however something as simple as sending your child an affirmation each morning is a great way to let them know you are thinking about them.
  2. Letter Writing – The art of letter writing is fading however it impact remains strong. There is nothing about being able to open a hand written letter from someone you love. The whole notion of someone taking the time to stop what he or she is doing to write you a note is priceless.
  3. Phone Calls – The numbers on your phone do more than just type numbers. Distance serves as no barrier when you have the ability to pick up the phone and call your children. Phones give you the ability to always be accessible to your children.
  4. Personalizing Gifts – My children love the newest gadgets a much as the next child, however when I give them gifts that speak to their own interest, it deepens my connection with them. I’ve learned that when I listen to them intently, I will hear the desires of their heart. Often they will tell me what’s important to them without them being aware that they’re doing it. Musical artist they like, place they desire to go, people they want to see and activities they want to do are at the top of the list of things that make giving; personal.
  5. Show Interest – A great way to be connected to your children is to show interest in the things that matter to them. Showing up to events, attending school meeting on their behalf, purchasing books or sending them links on subjects they like. Nothing expresses love more, than your children knowing that you are paying attention to their needs and wants.

Here’s a bonus tip…Affection. I know, depending on the age of your child this becomes a little tricky to pull off. Do it anyway. They’ll never forget it.

Kenneth Braswell is the Executive Director of Fathers Incorporated (www.fathersincorporated.com) and the Director of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearing House (www.fatherhood.gov). You can follow him on Twitter @fathersincorp and his personal blog at www.dadspadblog.com.

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How Can I Prepare My Kids for College?

May 26th, 2016

College is a stepping stone toward adulthood for your child. While this may be true, college campuses are oftentimes not the most mature environments. Your child will be thrown into a new and unfamiliar situation with thousands of other unsupervised teens. They will face opportunities, challenges, and the temptation to use alcohol and drugs.

If your children are young, start teaching your kids about the dangers of alcohol and drug use as soon as they understand the difference between good and bad. The most important qualities to teach your child throughout their formative years are love, discipline and respect. So by the time they reach college and experience a new kind of independence, they will be focused on being productive and getting good grades.

When your children are in high school, conversations about alcohol and drug use should be routine and frequent. During these talks, make sure you’re asking questions about what they are seeing around them and you’re listening as much as you talk. Continuously reinforcing your expectations about drugs and alcohol is important: 70 percent of college students say that their parents’ concerns or expectations influence whether or how much they drink, smoke, or use drugs. Students who are drug and alcohol free in high school are less likely to drink and use drugs in college.

The college experience today is very different from the days when you were a student. Students can set their schedules so that they have no Friday or even Thursday classes, and fewer morning classes. Many college campuses are encircled by bars that sell beer and alcohol at low prices to attract students. Technology gives students greater access to parties that have drugs and alcohol, and students have more time to devote towards partying. Temptation is nearly constant, and because the brain is still developing throughout the midtwenties, the controls needed to resist it, and the ability to appreciate consequences of actions, are not yet fully in place.

Alex (a student at Miami University) remembers the impressive assortment of drugs he once used. “I used pretty much everything,” he said. “Adderall, Ambien, Xanax, Klonopin, Percocet, morphine, Suboxone, ketamine… Now I only use Xanax once in a while.” He used each drug, he said, for a different purpose. “Adderall helps me study,” he said “The benzos chilled me out and helped my anxiety, and the opiates made me feel great and forget about my problems.” (Source: Victoria Slater “Prescription Drug Epidemic on the Rise,” Miami student newspaper, Miami University of Ohio, December 3, 2013.)

The reasons college students use drugs, whether it be to party, relax, study, or avoid something stressful, are no different from the reasons high school students report using the same drugs. The big difference for college students is their environment. College freshman don’t need to go home and face their parents and family members after smoking, drinking, or using other drugs. To college kids, the nights are longer, the parties are harder, and the access to drugs and alcohol is much easier.

As a parent you have the power to influence your kids throughout their college years, especially if you begin talking about drugs and alcohol with them at an early age. Keep the lines of communication open when they’re in middle school, high school and college. This will help you develop a positive, open, and nurturing relationship with your child. Let your child know that you explicitly disapprove of substance use, and monitor their behavior as they continue to mature and grow. Resisting peer pressure and avoiding risky situations are acquired skills, and the best time to teach them is when your child is at home with you.

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5 Tips to Make Sure Your Child Has a Safe Prom Night

May 12th, 2016

Prom night is a rite of passage for many teens. In May and June, high school students across the country prepare for what can feel like the biggest night of their lives. Finding the perfect dress, the right date, and the best after party is all a part of their planning process. Students may have the best intentions for a memorable evening, but prom night can sometimes lead to drinking, smoking, or using other drugs. Ensuring your child’s safety on prom night starts at home with open and honest conversations between parents and teens.

Here are 5 tips to make sure your teen’s prom is memorable for all the right reasons:

1. Have Contact Numbers Handy

Put together a list of all of the necessary contact numbers. This includes the number of a friend’s house or the number of the local venue where the after party is taking place. You’ll want to know who your kids will be travelling with, and more importantly, you’ll want to know the phone numbers of each of those children and their parents so you can quickly get in touch with them if there’s an emergency. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged for the night.

2. Communicate

Talk to your children about what to expect at their prom. Discuss things that can happen – from getting a wallet or cell phone stolen to being pressured to smoke, drink, or use other drugs – and discuss what to do if your teen experiences a problem. Talk openly and honestly and let them know that they do not have to give in to peer pressure.

3. Work with Other Parents

Call the parents of any friends attending prom with your child beforehand. This includes parents of dates as well as parents of everyone in the group of teens your child is planning on spending the night with. Talk about your children’s plans and make sure you both have similar rules and expectations. You could also consider hosting an after party with some of the parents or finding an event for your kids to attend that is supervised by adults you know and trust.

4. Have a Transportation Plan

Take driving out of the equation. Many teens may want to drive themselves to the prom, but hiring a limo can be a great way to keep your teen from getting in a car with a drunken friend or classmate. Other options include using a car service or a cab, or making plans with other parents to drop teens off and pick them up at the end of the night.

5. Stay Connected

Make sure your teen texts or calls you throughout the night to check in. Ask them to text/call when they arrive, when they are going to another location such as an after party, and when they are coming home.

Is your teen attending a prom this month? If yes, try some of our tips and let us know which ones were most helpful in the comments below.

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Adapted from the following:
ProjectKnow.com – “5 Tips for Making Your Teen’s Prom Safe and Sober”
Empowering Parents - “8 Parental Rules for Prom Night: Should You Ever Take Away Prom?”
Cook Children’s Health Care System – “Prom night: 5 tips to keep your teen safe”
San Diego Family Magazine - “Prom Night Safety Tips for Parents”

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Hands-on Parents Save Lives

April 20th, 2016

This month we’re delighted to have Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) as our guest blogger. In honor of Alcohol Awareness Month we’ve invited them to discuss PowerTalk 21® day—the national day dedicated to inspiring conversations between parents and their kids about alcohol. Check out the blog below!

Sometimes it just takes a word.

The right conversation between a parent and a child can be life changing and, more importantly, lifesaving.

That’s why MADD appreciates Family Day, a program created by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse aimed at celebrating parental engagement as an effective tool to help keep America’s kids substance free.

Sometimes, parents can feel they have little influence on their child or teen, especially between the strong influence exerted by the media and their child’s friends. But that’s simply not the case, as we discuss in PowerTalk 21®. Like Family Day, PowerTalk 21® is a national day – April 21st – dedicated to inspiring intentional, ongoing, and possibly lifesaving conversations between parents and their kids about alcohol. PowerTalk 21® is part of MADD’s Power of Parents program, sponsored by Nationwide.

This year, the program examines research by Dr. Robert Turrisi, PhD, whose groundbreaking research on teens and alcohol consumption continues to shatter drinking myths. His research, coupled with a nationwide public opinion survey, indicates that parents are actually THE most influential when it comes to shaping a teen’s opinions and actions regarding alcohol.

Parents are naturally role models, and kids look to them for guidance, especially for an issue like underage drinking that includes so much peer pressure, misinformation, and glamorization. The best strategy is a two-pronged approach – TELL your kids about the dangers of alcohol and then SHOW them the correct behavior. And don’t limit the conversation to just drinking and driving. Include the importance of not riding with a non-sober driver, as well.

Download our newest handbook today to learn the most effective strategies for making this conversation stick with your child or teen. When you do, you will be automatically entered to win an Amazon Echo, Kindle Fire HD, or one of two $50 gift cards.

Family Day and PowerTalk 21® both seek to tap into the Power of Parents to influence their kids. Talk to yourkids today. Please believe that you can make a difference.

 

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Alcohol Marketing to Teens

April 14th, 2016

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, which provides the perfect opportunity to talk to your child about the dangers of underage drinking. Teens are constantly being exposed to images that promote drinking. Alcohol manufacturers spend billions of dollars on television, radio, print, and outdoor advertising, with the intention of enticing kids. Alcohol advertising influences not only how kids and teens perceive drinking, but also whether and how much they intend to drink. While you can’t prevent your child from seeing the alcohol advertising around them, you can change the way they think about drinking by talking to them about the alcohol ads they see. Teach them to think critically about alcohol advertising by asking questions like: Who is paying for this ad? What is this purpose of the ad?  What myths about drinking does the ad promote?

Children and teens may be more susceptible to advertising than adults. Researchers have found that the more familiar kids are with beer brands and slogans, the more positively they view drinking and the more frequently they express a desire to drink beer. In essence, the more ads children see, the more they want to drink. More than one in five TV alcohol commercials are placed on programming that is geared to twelve- to twenty-year-olds, and the likelihood of your child seeing an alcohol ad while watching TV has been increasing since 2001.

Did you know the alcohol industry devises special products to make alcohol appealing to kids? Their kid-friendly products include sweet-tasting and colorfully packaged malt or other alcohol-based beverages known as malternatives or alcopops, such as Smirnoff Ice, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and Bacardi Ready to Serve Cocktails. These products are designed to look like soft drinks and their sweet and fruity flavors have become a favorite among teens, especially girls. In addition, dessert-like liquors are becoming more and more popular for teens who want to try the new marshmallow-flavored vodka or red velvet cake-flavored malt drinks. Hard liquor is now tied with beer as the favored drink of thirteen- to twenty-year-olds, with sweetened drinks like alcopops close behind.

Alcopops are also designed to make drinking easier for your child. They come in bottles with twist-off tops, which are easy to open outside of the home, where children are often drinking. They have a higher percentage of alcohol when compared to beer. This is because companies know kids are drinking to get drunk. You’ll often see these drinks in small grocery stores and corner markets, places where drinking-age laws are oftentimes less strictly enforced.

If you think your child may be drinking, smell their breath for alcohol and look into their eyes and talk to them when they come home at night from a friend’s house or after a party. Also, try having a conversation with your kids tonight about alcohol and how they feel about alcohol advertising. Share with them what you learned from this blog. What information was most helpful to you? Let us know in the comments below.

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Smoking Cigarettes or Marijuana and the Teen Brain

March 24th, 2016

Nicotine and marijuana can seriously harm teens’ brains, sometimes causing long-term and permanent damage. Do you know all the ways nicotine and marijuana can damage your teen’s brain? How often do you talk about it with your teen?

Heavy cigarette smoking has been found to negatively affect the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain controls skills such as decision making and impulse control. The prefrontal cortex can be permanently altered if a teen smokes cigarettes regularly, and other parts of the brain have to pick up the slack. This causes you teen’s brain to work less efficiently than it should.

Regular marijuana use also harms your teen’s brain. It can lower your teen’s IQ and spark latent schizophrenia (a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder). Your teen most likely knows that there are consequences associated with marijuana use, even if they don’t want to admit it. During a discussion about drugs and alcohol with your child ask them if they know anyone in school who is labeled as a “pothead” or a “stoner.” Your teen might describe this person as acting lazy, goofy, or disinterested. They may even find it funny. This is a perfect opportunity for you to point out that such conduct is also a consequence of marijuana use. Let your teen know regular marijuana use will harm their brain and could alter their personality.

Your child’s brain is developing, and it is a precious, complex, sensitive device. Their brain is more vulnerable to the damaging and addictive effects of alcohol and other drugs than the brain of an adult. You have the power to protect your child’s brain and help develop it in a healthy way.

Keep the lines of communication open when talking to your kids about alcohol and other drugs. Try our “8 Tips for Talking to Your Teen About Substance Use.”

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Bringing Families Together Over Good Food and Good Books

March 8th, 2016

This month we’re delighted to have First Lady of Wyoming Carol Mead as our guest blogger. With the help of a coalition of community partners, First Lady Mead launched Eat. Read. Grow., a Cheyenne-based program that encourages families to spend time together over meals and to read together at home. Learn more about the program in our blog below!

Understandably, when families experience financial stress, putting food on the table rises to the top of their priorities and leaves a potential for less available time and energy to be devoted to encouraging literacy. With the hope of reducing some of these pressures so families can focus on their children and their children’s success in school and beyond, I launched Eat. Read. Grow. Modeled after a program in Casper, Wyoming called Book and a Bite, the program aims to encourage families to spend time together over meals and to read together at home, both activities that experts have told me boost children’s self-confidence by strengthening the parent-child bond and support their earliest educational experiences by cultivating intellectual curiosity and literacy skills. And since children who read proficiently at grade level by third grade are far less likely to drop out of high school than kids who don’t, encouraging early literacy is a key tenet in a child’s success in school and in life.

The concept and events are simple. A dinner is hosted for financially disadvantaged families. The families spend quality time together over the meal, enjoy a few stories read by “celebrity” readers, learn about community services from which they may benefit, and go home with an age-appropriate book for each of their children and a bag of fresh groceries and pantry supplies. With a full refrigerator and pantry, families can engage in activities like reading together.

Since 2013, we’ve hosted eight events in Cheyenne. The concept is gaining momentum, with similar programs up and running in seven other Wyoming communities.

The program is easy to replicate. There are really only a handful of elements needed.

  • A venue is needed that can accommodate a dinner for the desired number of attendees. School gymnasiums work great! So do senior centers and community centers.
  • A meal that is easy to serve is the main component. In Cheyenne, we have had meals donated by local restaurants and now work for a high school catering program that prepares and serves the meal for a nominal cost.
  • “Celebrity” readers can be local firefighters or police officers, high school sports teams and/or cheerleaders, the mayor, or some other figure that kids admire. We often project an electronic version of the book while the reader reads so everyone has a good view of the illustrations and words.
  • Age-appropriate books for the children who attend are easy to come by through book drives (gently used or new) or through community programs offered by many publishers of children’s literature. We use the FACE program through Scholastic, which offers new books at a reduced price. Each child at our event gets to choose his or her own book, an empowering experience for young children and one that allows them the freedom to explore their areas of interest.
  • Our local food bank provides a bag of fresh groceries and pantry supplies for each family to take home. Many families who attend our events report that the groceries are a main reason for their participation.

We started very small in Cheyenne – serving only about 80 people for the first couple of events. We recruited families through an after school program that operates at Title I schools to ensure we reach families who could benefit from it. We now serve about 120 people per event. Our costs are fairly low – about $700 per event, and we’re able to support the program through small community grants and private donations. Our handful of dedicated volunteers keep the program running, and literature or booths provided by local organizations provide information on resources – such as reduced energy rates, meal budgeting and nutrition, and local tutoring services – from which the families can benefit.

The most rewarding part of the program is seeing children and families interact over a meal and a good story. For more on Eat. Read. Grow, visit our webpage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When Kids Use Stimulants to Get “Smarter”

February 29th, 2016

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is becoming a common diagnosis among kids. This means more children and teens, and even college-aged kids, are taking prescribed stimulant drugs such as Adderall to help them improve their concentration. Did you know nearly 21 million prescriptions were handed out to adolescents in 2012?

Many kids are calling stimulant drugs “Good-Grade” pills or “Study Aids.” Students who aren’t suffering from ADHD will take these drugs to help them get an extra edge in the classroom. Kids have easy access to stimulant drugs because most of them know someone at school who will sell them Ritalin or Adderall for as little as $5.00 a pill. Also, college students have learned that they can feign symptoms of ADHD and get their own prescription from a doctor. Kids often don’t view these drugs as risky because of the rise in numbers of teens being diagnosed with ADHD and because they think these drugs are “just used to boost school performance.”

There are parents that may tell you that stimulants helped their child who doesn’t have ADHD improve their grades. They might suggest you do the same to help your child. While they may be trying to help, they need to realize that they’re encouraging their child to take a pill they don’t need and may become dependent upon in the future. Your child’s school may even suggest medication for ADHD, but whether or not your child has ADHD is something for you and your child’s doctor to decide. If a teacher, administrator, or school nurse recommends that your child should be medicated, you could get a second opinion from your child’s pediatrician or from an adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist. You can go to an education testing service that specializes in evaluating children for disorders such as ADHD. Remember, if a child is having trouble focusing in the classroom, it does not necessarily mean that ADHD is to blame or that medication is the solution.

It’s important to make sure your child understands that prescription drugs are to be used only as directed by a doctor. Talk to your child’s teachers, coaches, and counselors at their school. See if they are being vigilant about students not sharing ADHD medications and that they are educating kids about why it’s risky to do so.

How often do you check in with your child to make sure they aren’t feeling too much pressure to perform well in school? Let us know in the comments below.

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Beware of Parental Peer Pressure

February 11th, 2016

Do you have rules in your home? Do you set a curfew for your child? Do you tell your teen they can’t watch television until after they finish their homework? Do you insist on knowing the whereabouts of your teen? If you answered yes to any of these questions it’s likely that you’ll receive a response such as this from your child, “But Mom, Olivia’s parents let their kids do these things. They’re, like, so much cooler than you.” In this type of situation it’s important to stand your ground. Children of the “cool” parents are likelier to get into hot water.

Beware of parental pressure. Oftentimes many parents succumb to the same kind of peer pressure they want their kids to be strong enough to resist. It can be difficult to tell your child that they can’t stay out past 11:00pm or watch R-rated movies when the parents of their friends allow their kids to stay out late and watch any movies they want. Remember, you have the right and the power to set your own family standards. Your child may get angry when you enforce your family’s rules, but eventually they will get the message and live within the boundaries you set. If you do not want your child to be influenced by peer pressure to smoke, drink, or use drugs, then you need to set the standard with your own conduct.

Also, you can’t isolate preventing substance use by your child from your involvement with other behaviors. You cannot be a “good” parent about drugs and alcohol unless you know about your child’s activities and interests, and set limits such as curfews, teach respect for adults, monitor your child’s time on the Internet, and are otherwise consistently engaged in your child’s daily life. All of these things are a part of helping your child get through the dangerous decade from ten to twenty-one without smoking, drinking, or using drugs.

Do you need some help engaging with your teen and getting the conversation started? Take a look at our Parent Toolkit: Teen Edition for conversation starters, family fun ideas, and even more parenting tips. Also, we encourage you to share some rules you have in your home in the comment section below.

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