- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Is it back-to-school time for your children? No matter what their ages, if you’re an American parent, you are likely to spend at least a few minutes assessing your child’s risk for drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

Nearly every American child will be offered these substances before they graduate from high school, Joseph A. Califano Jr. says in his new book, “How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid: The Straight Dope for Parents.”

Parents should be especially vigilant at certain times, such as the first six months of middle school, the first six months of high school and the first six months of college,” Mr. Califano says.

These are “transition times,” when research shows that youths are at a higher risk to be introduced to these substances and/or experiment with them, Mr. Califano told me recently.

Thankfully, the most powerful pieces of advice for parents are refreshingly clear and simple:

• Keep lines of communication open with your children.

• Stay connected (without micromanaging), and, especially, keep Dad engaged.

• Set good personal examples; model the behaviors you want to see.

• Set reasonable rules and enforce them without being punitive.

• Know where your children are and who their friends are.

• Eat dinner together regularly. Sharing good food is certainly wonderful, but the “magic” in eating together stems from the undivided attention and “face time” it creates for everyone.

• Cultivate a religious life as a family.

• Stay connected to a larger community.

These recommendations are all “evidence-based” and will reduce the likelihood that children will ever smoke, use illegal drugs or abuse alcohol, said Mr. Califano, a secretary of health, education and welfare in the Carter administration and founder and chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

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