Parents have much more influence on their children’s decision-making than they often think they do, and they need to embrace their “Parent Power” to help their kids navigate media that promote and glorify substance use, writes Joseph A. Califano, Jr., author of the revised and updated book, How to Raise a Drug Free Kid: The Straight Dope for Parents. He’s also founder of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University and a former United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.
In today’s ever-connected world, youth are commonly exposed each day to hundreds of messages traveling across digital platforms and social-media networks, such as Instagram, Snap Chat, Facebook and Twitter. Many of those communication streams are polluted by pro-drug messages. For example, in June 2014, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine reported in the Journal of Medical Internet Research their analysis of tweets dispatched over eight months from a Twitter account called Weed Tweets@stillblazintho that has about 1 million followers. During the study period, the account posted an average of 11 tweets daily — and researchers found that 73 percent of recipients were under age 19. Fifty-four percent were 17 to 19 years old, and almost 20 percent were 16 or younger. About 22 percent were 20 to 24 years of age. Only 5 percent of the followers were 25 or older.
So, it’s important for parents to check in with their children to inquire about their media consumption; help them make smart choices about how to procure accurate information from reputable sources; and also help them know how to use the web responsibly. Kids really do want to hear from their parents, Califano wrote for DrugFree.org. When The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University surveyed teens about what they consider appropriate behavior while surfing the web, 58 percent said their parents guided their actions, compared to only 18 percent who said they took most of their cues about online use from their friends.
“There’s a lot of dangerous stuff on the Internet, so just as you would warn your child about steering clear of a dangerous neighborhood, make sure they’re staying away from the dangerous areas online, too,” Califano wrote. “Parenting is an art, not a science. Being engaged in your children’s lives doesn’t require being a supermom or superdad. It simply means using your strengths and taking advantage of opportunities, both on the computer and away from it, to be a good parent.”