Empower Parents

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Introductory Paragraph

Parents have a significant influence on whether or not their children choose to use drugs. A basic understanding of the need to reduce risk factors and increase protective factors helps parents to balance the messages that they send to their children. There are a wide variety of resources and programs that are available to assist parents in building developmental assets and reducing the likelihood of children using substances. [1]

Having children can be physically, financially, and emotionally challenging for many parents, especially when trying to ensure a drug-free future. Utilizing resources may assist parents in providing a hopeful future and eliminate risks which are detrimental to kids' overall health and wellness. Parents can inadvertently send messages to their children that may confuse them about the family stance on drug use. For example, not having clear communication about drug use, using substances with or around children, and watching television shows or movies that depict drug use can sometimes detrimentally impact children and put them at a greater risk of using substances in the future. Parents can empower themselves and set clear expectations regarding drug use by engaging in programs and becoming proactive in their parenting approach. [2]

School prevention programs need the support of families and the entire community. When the consistent message is sent throughout the socio-ecological domains (family, school, community) that drug use is not tolerated, it has a powerful effect on young people.

Key Information

Parent's Role in Prevention and Recovery

Parental influence is one of the most important factors of a child’s development. Youth who believe their parents would strongly disapprove of substance use are far less likely to experiment with or regularly use substances than those youth who do not receive such messages from their parents. Parents have the ability to instill powerful values, create positive safety nets, and lessen the risk factors that youth face every day. Studies have found that increased parental involvement can greatly impact the life-course outcomes of children by providing a solid foundation for positive behaviors, limiting mental health issues, and preventing the onset of substance use. Substantial research has highlighted the importance of self-control, mental health, school readiness skills, and secure attachment during the most vulnerable periods of development in childhood. While substance use usually begins in adolescence, there are known biological, psychological, social, and environmental risk factors that can begin even before birth. Parents can combat these risk factors by providing a stable home environment, adequate nutrition, physical and cognitive stimulation, and supportive parenting techniques in order to positively impact their children’s overall mental and physical health. [3]

Parental involvement is also a key factor in the lives of youth going through the recovery process. An article by Recovery First, an American Addiction Center treatment facility, states “Parents play an instrumental part in the drug addiction treatment or alcohol rehabilitation of their dependent child. In fact, most rehab centers report that it is often the mother or father who initiates treatment for their minor.” [4] The parent’s support and involvement in treatment are potentially life-saving in the recovery process.

Parents Can Influence Use of Prescription Opioids

In many cases, doctors, dentists, and oral surgeons are still prescribing opioids to teens. Many parents, especially parents of student-athletes, may not realize the risks. One way to mitigate this issue is for doctors and pharmacists to educate parents on the risks of prescription opioids and encourage parents to work with their medical providers to reduce the possibility of their children misusing prescription pain medications. [5] Research shows that youth who are prescribed opioids before graduating from high school are 33 percent more likely to misuse prescription opioids after graduation. [6] Parents and caregivers can drastically reduce the risk of opioid misuse by having a strong, open, and honest relationship with their children.

Relevant Research

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has published research which addresses how significantly the actions, choices, and lifestyle of parents impacts their children. Although much of the prevention discourse focuses on adolescence, the benefits of empowering parents begins with the birth of their children. A child’s temperament can make parenting easier or harder. Children with easier temperaments are more responsive to parent interaction, adjust well to routine, and may lead to a strong parent-child relationship. However, highly reactive infants can increase parental stress, frustration, impatience, and may be more susceptible to neglect abuse, and negative family dynamics. Early interventions for parents can aid in assisting parents to develop appropriate expectations of infants, strengthen parenting skills, and help parents learn skills to cope with frustrating situations.

This article documents the benefits of programs that focus on training to promote positive development and proper parenting skills which encourage healthy attachment, love, effective discipline techniques, and healthy communication. These protective factors have proven to yield positive outcomes such as reducing teen pregnancy, decreasing school failure, and preventing substance use. Aside from offering effective prevention, family interventions also lead to positive impacts in adulthood by improving job performance, mental health, and goal attainment. [7]

Impactful Federal, State, and Local Policies

Adolescent substance use places a large burden on parents, communities, criminal justice systems, medical facilities, and the economy. [8] Physical and behavioral health care costs are substantially higher in individuals who have a substance use disorder. In the mid-1990s and early 2000s, the economic cost of substance abuse was over $360 billion in the United States. The large amount of federal budget requests for substance use programs, law enforcement, drug interdiction, and other related costs has led lawmakers to consider incorporating alternative prevention strategies aimed at assisting parents with the skills necessary to prevent child maltreatment and enhance parent-child relationships. [9]

However, it is difficult to formulate policy for affairs considered to be under familial jurisdiction. Most state and federal efforts in this domain are less oriented to prevention than to intervention, such as truancy within an educational system or a level of neglect or abuse requiring intervention through social services. Thus, prevention policies have focused more upon reduction of risk factors than policy oriented towards enhancement of protective factors. Statistical correlation of the involvement of substance abuse with social services intervention has made prevention an increasingly attractive investment on the part of county commissioners who have seen a skyrocketing in their annual budgets associated with the costs of foster care. There is potential to implement policy at this local community scale, such as incentivizing participation in the development of parenting skills. Likewise, any state-wide policies which require counties to provide explicit channels for increasing family programming would be an example of this type of policy formulation. A current example resides in the allocation of funds from opioid settlements.

Available Tools and Resources

Drugfree.org is a hotline that allows parents to speak to other trained parents about substance abuse issues. [10]

Drug Prevention Resources has an abundance of tools and resources to help parents to reduce the likelihood of their kids using drugs.

Family Life's Art of Parenting is a free online course that gives parents a simple vision and creative ways to make faith the core of their parenting. [11]

Fathers' Uplift empowers fathers to overcome barriers and become positively engaged in their children's lives. [12]

Get Smart About Drugs is a website federally funded by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for parents, educators, and caregivers that provides resources and a database for information in both English and Spanish. The website provides valuable information about talking to children about substance use, guides to getting treatment, and provides culture-based prevention resources [13]. The DEA has also produced two books, "Growing Up Drug Free: A Parent's Guide to Prevention" and "Prescription for Disaster: How Teens Abuse Medicine." [14]

SAMHSA National Hotline is a confidential information service that is free, available 24 hours a day and365 days a year. It provides services in English and Spanish for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. They also provide many links with helpful information to help families and individuals answer important questions about drug abuse and recovery. [15]

The National Academy for State Health Policy offers a toolkit titled "Youth Crisis Receiving and Stabilization Facilities which includes reports on positive cases from a variety of states. [16]

Promising Practices

Safe Homes. A variety of local initiatives utilize an approach to improve parental responsibility for youth in their communities. These include an effort by the United Way of Rutherford NC regarding pledges to communicate with their children and to supervise drug-free social gatherings in their homes. [17] The Safe Homes initiative in Georgia focuses on safe storage. [18] The Upriver Youth Leadership Council in Idaho supports a network of parents who are committed to ensuring that social events in their homes are drug-free. [19]

Parent Partners are known by a number of different titles, such as parent mentors, parents for parents, veteran parents, and parent allies. They are parents with previous direct experience in the child welfare system who assist parents currently involved or at risk of becoming involved with the child welfare system. Parent Partner Programs can be court-based, within child welfare agencies, part of law offices, or independent. [20]

The Strengthening Families Program (SFP) is a seven-session, evidence-based program for families with adolescent children. This program is designed to provide at-risk parents with necessary parenting skills that may lead to a reduction in substance use later in life. The results of the program have been evaluated in multiple different studies that took place in 17 different countries. The program has proven to be effective at reducing risk factors for adolescent substance use, mental health problems, and delinquency. The program also showed a positive influence on parental stress and parenting skills that helped to reduce child maltreatment by educating parents on stress and anger management techniques. [21]

Incredible Years is offered to parents whose children have been screened for disruptive behaviors during toddler well visits. The program offered group parenting classes that reduced negative parenting styles and parent-child interactions. Prevention of negative parenting styles has a direct impact on social, emotional, and physiological functioning in children and reduces adolescent and adult substance use. [22]

Gobi is an online prevention program designed by professionals and young adults for teens and their families. It is designed specifically for teens, using a tool they already have in hand. Every day for 21 days teens get an assignment on their smartphone which takes 5 minutes per day. Several times a week they get a supportive text message that is meant to be irreverent, humorous, cynical, and just offensive enough to keep them laughing (and engaged). Parents are involved and get their own series of emails on adolescent development and communication skills. Teens are asked three times to schedule a time to talk with their parents. Topics and guidelines are included to make the conversation as successful as possible. Teens that use Gobi report: [23]

  • Improved relationship with their parents
  • A decrease in their use of drugs and alcohol
  • Better ability to manage stress
  • Increased awareness of their choices
  • Signing up for Gobi is free to use by both parents and youth.
  • More information on adopting the Gobi program