Drugs are bad Mmmkay: It’s Red Ribbon Week!

October 23-31st is National Red Ribbon Week. It’s an awareness, education, and advocacy effort by the National Family Partnership (formerly the National Federation for Drug Free Youth). They invite us to take the following pledge:

As parents and citizens, we will talk to our children and the children in our lives about the dangers of drug abuse.

  1. We will set clear rules for our children about not using drugs.
  2. We will set a good example for our children by not using illegal drugs or medicine without a prescription.
  3. We will monitor our children’s behavior and enforce appropriate consequences, so that our rules are respected.
  4. We will encourage family and friends to follow the same guidelines to keep children safe from substance abuse.

The Family Partnership’s research shows that kids whose parents talk to them regularly about the dangers of drug use are 42% less likely to use drugs, yet only about 25% of kids surveyed identify having those discussions with their families.

I know the feel good efforts of these folks are well intended. The best investment we can make in overcoming our addiction epidemic is prevention. It’s just nowhere near enough. I note that this organization formed in 1980 (the “Just Say No!” era). The pledge above is easy to make at face value until you consider it carefully:

“…our children and the children in our lives.”

What’s our comfort level talking to kids who aren’t ours about life choices? How readily do we show concern for their home lives? Too many of us are overly cautious about connecting to other people’s kids. I have a hundred kids. They’re mine because they’re nobody’s.

“We will set clear rules about not using drugs.”

Right, that’ll work. I agree that it’s better than not addressing it at all but I have yet to meet a kid who declined drugs because “Mom told me not to.” That leads us to…

“We will set a good example by not using illegal drugs…”

Ok, sure – and how about legal drugs like alcohol (conspicuously absent from the plege)? What else goes into that example? Kids whose needs aren’t met are at exponentially higher risk for drug use. Kids who lack love and acceptance are at greater risk. Where do we take the pledge to be men and women who model compassion, empathy, kindness and being part of a community?

“We will monitor our children’s behavior…”

Is that the same as being involved in their daily lives? I raised two teenagers. I know it’s hard to maintain those connections when they seem to be pushing us away at every turn. I also know that monitoring alone is authoritative and I have yet to meet an at risk adolescent that doesn’t have huge issues with authority.

Better to build them up. Better to follow the simple brilliance of Frederick Douglass:

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men (and women).”

Meeting the needs of our children is a community responsibility. If you want to help curb addiction, invest in every child you meet. Feeling valued and a part of is the best defense against developing substance use and addiction. Show up. Volunteer. Mentor. Coach. Teach by example and help us save lives.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.