The children are watching

How should a community react when a child is harmed? The reality is that as caregivers (parents, guardians, older siblings, relatives), we are the most powerful influence in the lives of our children. Yes, the most—even more than peers. Caregivers must realize we are role models continually setting examples that serve as a barometer of right and wrong.

Talk early and often with your children about the risks of drugs, alcohol, sex, sexual violence and multimedia use. These conversations may be difficult and awkward, but data proves that children who learn about risks from their parents are less likely to take them than others who do not. Only 30 percent of teens report learning about these things from their parents, meaning most are learning about making smart choices from peers and the Internet.

Teens say that the main reason they choose not to use alcohol or drugs is because they do not want to disappoint their parents.

In a 2014 Peninsula School District survey, only 15 percent of children said they drink alcohol if their parents think it’s wrong, while 57 percent said they drink if their parents don’t think it’s wrong. The percentage of kids who say their parents didn’t talk to them about the dangers of alcohol and drug use increases as they get older, from 21 percent in eighth grade to 38 percent in 12th grade.

What do these statistics tell us? The bottom line is that parents need to talk early and often to their children and teens about the risks. As adults, it is important for us to know how drugs and alcohol affect the teen brain and body—and our own behavior—so that we can teach our children.

Children are less likely to make poor decisions when parents are involved in their lives and when they feel close to them. Family conflict and lack of bonding opens the door to peer and social media based influence.

How do we increase family bonding? It’s as simple as sharing meals, giving honest feedback or praise for the choices your child makes, and setting clear and enforceable boundaries. Set these rules early and talk about them often: They will help your child choose between right and wrong and develop positive relationships with their peers and friends.

A key component is knowing what your child is doing and whom they are doing it with. This includes social gatherings and online activity. Educate yourself about the technology your child is using and know what your child is exposed to. Create an environment where checking phones and history is part of the family culture. Talk about pop-up ads and how links can often lead to unwanted or unsolicited territory. Create an environment where a child can ask questions and feel comfortable with discussions about difficult topics.

The Internet is a wonderful resource when monitored and used responsibly. By becoming educated and aware of the online risks and dangers, and by using up-to-date security software, you can help your child navigate the cyber world safely. Some tweens and teens are using photo sharing sites and apps that can be viewed as a basic version of social networking. Pay attention to all the sites your children visit, especially those that occupy a large amount of their time.

Education is our strongest protection against the dangers and temptations we face. Arming our children with the facts about alcohol and drug use, sex and sexual abuse and enforcing our expectations, gives them the right tools. It is too easy to depend on peers, chat rooms or Internet searches for life lessons. These lessons must come from trusted adults and are the foundation for all the other difficult conversations families face as they grow and mature.

For more information, go to: starttalkingnow.org/and search-institute.org/content/.

Anne Nesbit is a volunteer battalion chief and administrative assistant at Key Peninsula fire department.

Siren’s Song
Siren’s Song