Q: As a concerned parent, I would like to know when is the best age to discuss drugs and alcohol prevention with my kids.

A: Don’t put off talking to your children about alcohol and other drugs. As early as fourth grade, kids worry about pressures to try drugs. School programs alone aren’t enough. Parents must become involved, but most parents aren’t sure how to tell their children about drugs. Keep open communication.

What do you say?

• Tell them that you love them and you want them to be healthy and happy.

• Say you do not find alcohol and other illegal drugs acceptable. Many parents never state this simple principle.

• Explain how this use hurts people. Physical harm — AIDS, slowed growth, impaired coordination, accidents. Emotional harm — sense of not belonging, isolation, paranoia. Educational harm — difficulties remembering and paying attention.

• Discuss the legal issues. A conviction for a drug offense can lead to time in prison or cost someone a job, driver’s license, or college loan.

• Talk about positive, drug-free alternatives, and how you can explore them together. Some ideas include sports, reading, movies, bike rides, hikes, camping, cooking, games, and concerts. Involve your kids’ friends.

How do you say it?

• Calmly and openly — don’t exaggerate. The facts speak for themselves.

• Face to face — exchange information and try to understand each other’s point of view. Be an active listener and let your child talk about fears and concerns. Don’t interrupt and don’t preach.

• Through “teachable moments” — in contrast to a formal lecture, use a variety of situations, television news, TV dramas, books, newspaper.

• Establish an ongoing conversation rather than giving a one-time speech.

• Remember that you set the example. Avoid contradictions between your words and your actions. And don’t use illegal drugs, period!

• Be creative! You and your child might act out various situations in which one person tries to pressure another to take a drug. Figure out two or three ways to handle each situation and talk about which works best.

• Exchange ideas with other parents.

How can you tell if a child is using drugs?

Identifying illegal drug use may help prevent further abuse. Possible signs include:

• Change in moods — more irritable, secretive, withdrawn, overly sensitive, inappropriately angry, and euphoric.

• Less responsible — late coming home, late for school or class, dishonest.

• Changing friends or changing lifestyles — new interests, unexplained cash.

• Physical deterioration — difficulty in concentration, loss of coordination, loss of weight, unhealthy appearance.

Why do kids use drugs?

Young people say they turn to alcohol and other drugs for one or more of the following reasons: to do what their friends are doing, to escape pain in their lives, to fit in, boredom, for fun, curiosity, and to take risks.

Take a stand! Educate yourself about the facts surrounding alcohol and other drug use. You will lose credibility with your child if your information is not correct. Establish clear family rules against drug use and enforce them consistently. Develop your parenting skills through seminars, networking with other parents, reading, counseling, and support groups. Work with other parents to set community standards -— you don’t raise a child alone. Volunteer at schools, youth centers, Boys & Girls Clubs, or other activities in your community.

If you have any suspicions, and would like to speak with me one-on-one, please do not hesitate to give me a call or e-mail. My contact information can be found below, or you can visit the Santa Monica Police Department’s website at www.santamonicapd.org, and my information is listed in the Neighborhood Resource Officer tab.

Q: My teenage daughter was told some very personal information by her friend, and now my child is unsure if she should tell someone out of concern for her friend’s safety. How should I handle this?

A: Many kids tell and share secrets with friends and siblings. Unfortunately, sometimes secrets can hurt people and even be dangerous. It’s important that children be able to differentiate between secrets that are OK to keep, and secrets they should never keep. Adults can help children learn this by teaching them when to keep a secret and when not to, and by instilling in them positive decision-making skills, self-esteem, and trust in adults.

The rule is if a secret can’t hurt someone or something, keep it. If a secret can hurt someone or something, tell an adult. If you’re not sure, tell.

It’s OK for children to keep surprise parties and presents secret because these secrets will make someone happy and won’t be a secret forever. But children should never keep it secret if someone is being bullied, or if someone is involved in dangerous behavior like fighting, weapons, vandalizing property, or using drugs.

Sometimes it can be hard for children to decide whether to tell a secret or keep it. The possible consequences may not be clearly negative or positive, the child may not want to violate someone’s trust, and he or she may not want to get in trouble.

Here are some ways you can help your children make positive decisions about secrets:

• Take time to listen carefully to your children’s fears and feelings about the people and places that scare them or make them feel uncomfortable.

• Tell kids to trust their instincts. If they think something may be wrong or may hurt someone, act on it.

• Make sure they know that no one has the right to ask them to keep a secret from their parents.

• Remind your children that no one, not even a teacher or close relative, has the right to touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.

• Tell them that no adult should ever ask them to keep a special secret, especially one that makes them feel uneasy.

• Let children know that they can tell you anything and you’ll be supportive. Take complaints seriously and take action.

This column was prepared by NRO Richard Carranza (Beat 1: coastal, beach and Santa Monica Pier). He can be reached at (424) 200-0681 or richard.carranza@smgov.net.

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