One of the reasons I moved from my work in a school based clinical day treatment program to the Town of Granby Youth Service Bureau was my desire to shift from intervention to prevention. Watching kid after kid struggle with anxiety, depression and substance abuse was frustrating and sad. I remember thinking if I could help just one kid NOT start using, NOT become so depressed he or she harmed themselves, NOT be so anxious that attending school was an un-winnable battle, then I would truly have accomplished something profoundly worthwhile.
As the coordinator, and a counselor with the Youth Service Bureau, prevention is a big part of what I do. I firmly believe that community based prevention is the key to raising children able to make healthy decisions and reduce the risky behaviors they engage in. That said, community prevention is no walk in the park!
There is really good information out there, research based intervention strategies that have documented effectiveness, and they do not require a rocket scientist to implement. What they do require is a community interested in hearing them, and incorporating the ideas and philosophies into a community wide voice that clearly lets our youth know that they are valued, supported, and that risky behaviors such as under age drinking, drinking and driving, risky sexual behavior and smoking marijuana or experimenting with other drugs is dangerous and unacceptable.
In our community (as in many, if not most communities) reaching parents with the information they need to be effective contributors in a community wide prevention effort often feels like an uphill battle. As in other towns, when we host a parent night, or an educational forum on a prevention topic ( be it drug use, suicide prevention or concussion prevention) we typically get anywhere from 10 to 20 parent attendees. Those parents almost always leave feeling they have learned important information.
Our challenge then is to figure out how to move the message beyond these 15 or 20 families and reach the thousand or so other families we are missing time and time again. No one has time for another meeting, another workshop, another anything, and prevention education just does not resonate with families as something they need to concern themselves with right now. The excuse may be my children are still too young, or my kids are doing fine, or they have good friends and I don't have to worry.
Well, we need to consider some facts here. Your children are too young? Maybe, but the average age of first use in Connecticut is age 12. This means that the discussion needs to start while our kids are in elementary school. Your kids are doing fine? Fantastic! Let's work together to keep it that way. Your kid has good friends? Also fantastic, but lets face facts, in a community where almost 50% of high school seniors say they have smoked pot or consumed alcohol in the recent past, a whole lot of good kids are engaging in some high risk behaviors.
As parents we need to prioritize prevention. Knowing the facts will help you guide your child to making safer decisions as a teenager, and if you are lucky enough to raise a teen who never makes a risky choice, I can almost guarantee you that he or she will have a friend who will make a mistake. The information and limits you impart to your child is may well help another child reduce the risks they take.
So please, the next time you hear that a prevention program is being offered in town, make the time to check it out. Coming to a program on preventing drug use in no way implies that you are worried that your child has a problem. To the contrary, it means that you are doing everything in your power to prevent a problem from developing. Please become a part of Granby's voice as we work to protect our youth from the very real dangers of underage substance use.
If you have any suggestions for topics of concern that you would like more information on, or ideas for bringing more parents to the programs we hold, please let me know!