Drug dependence is starting in children at early stages of childhood. Raise your kids to be drug-free.
You probably perceive drug and alcohol use as a far-off threat for your pre-teen, but the facts indicate that now is the time to get proactive. More and more young people are experimenting with drugs and alcohol, some even before they hit their teens.
There are three major trends in South Africa regarding the use of drugs:
- The percentage of adolescents who experiment with drugs grows every year,
- Children start taking drugs at a younger age every year; and
- Children are using more dangerous and addictive drugs, such as Tik (crystal methamphetamine) and heroin.
Some 20% of addicts start using drugs before the age of 13, including substances like tobacco and alcohol.
Who is at risk?
Children with low self-esteem and those who are easily influenced by peers are more likely to try drugs, however peer pressure is surprisingly low on the list of motivators for children taking drugs.
The main motivators according to latest trends are stress and the desire to be cool, “grown-up” and achieve social prestige. Worldwide more males than females use drugs, but the female percentages are rising every year. At least half of the boys in our country will try drugs before they leave school.
A young person whose friends use drugs is more likely to be a drug user. The easier it is for young people to get access to drugs, the more likely they are to use them. Parenting style and parental substance abuse are also associated with drug use among young people.
The effect of drugs
One of the many negative effects of drug use is delayed or retarded psychological and emotional development. A teenager who uses drugs will fail to progress through the necessary stages towards emotional maturity. A 22-year-old who started using drugs at 13, for example, will have the emotional skills of a 13-year-old... and may never catch up.
Another devastating effect of drug abuse is the negative impact on family relationships, and then there are the health risks. Apart from the longer-term consequences of drug abuse such as dropping out of school, there are the immediate consequences of high-risk behaviour such as promiscuity and reckless driving.
What you can do
By the time a child is 3, he can understand the difference between poison, medicine and food. Between 6 and 12 years of age, parents can read children’s books about drugs and addiction to their children and begin discussing these topics.
It is especially important to explain the dangers of inhalants at an early age, because some children start using substances like glue, benzene or hair spray as young as 6 years of age.
By 12 years children should be familiar with the appearance, effects and dangers of various kinds of drugs, as well as the legal consequences for possessing or selling them.
Parents should also educate themselves about the types of drugs out there and their effects, as well as facilitating healthy discussion about alcohol and tobacco use, and the way these substances are marketed and used socially.
Avoid an authoritarian approach such as lecturing, as this could lead to a breakdown in communication. Be honest and open about your own use of alcohol and the role it plays in your life. Parents have an important role to play in modelling responsible behaviour.
But raising children to be drug-free has to do with much more than simply giving them information and monitoring their activities. The root cause of many behavioural problems, including substance abuse, is not lack of discipline, but lack of connection.
Children who lack a close relationship with at least one loving parent are at risk for substance abuse, no matter how much discipline is imposed on them. Likewise, children who have a close relationship with a loving parent are more likely to resist drugs.