Alcohol, Drugs and Early Childhood Development

Jon Liming, Matt Tressler, Vicki Schwimmer,

Zen Benefiel and Wendy Jackson

University of Phoenix

    According to a study done by the National Parents Resource Institute for Drug Education (PRIDE), 90 percent of students get an anti-drug lesson from their teachers and less than 30 percent learn from their parents. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America further discovered that over half of those that learned of the risk of drugs from their parents were likely to not use them (ABC Online Guide). These statistics have prompted Reader’s Digest to publish a family guide called “How to Raise Drug-Free Kids,” in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education, ABC Television Network, and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. The article was written by Per Ola and Emily D’Aulaire.

     Ola and D’Aulaire take us through stages of childhood development and tell us the little and big things we can do to get the message through. The first way that they see of giving children a chance of not becoming involved in drug use is dependant on the behavior of their parents prior to birth. If the parents are using drugs, drinking or smoking, it will affect the child in the womb. Children’s chances of addiction are thought to be higher if the parents have exposed them this early. They also feel that before a child starts school their behavior patterns should be geared towards honesty, fairness, respect for others and the law (Ola and D’Aulaire, 1997). Having children learn to let parents identify pills that may be around the house before they eat them is essential. Show the differences between pills and similar looking candy, but teach them to always ask before they swallow anything.

     Between the ages of five and nine imitation is a major factor in children in what and how children learn. According to Ola and D’Aulaire, although children can idolize their teachers they learn more from watching their parents behavior. If parents are drinking or smoking, the child is more likely to follow in their footsteps. They go on to say that most researchers agree that abstinence is not necessary, but to limit oneself the occasional drink, etc. Do not involve children in these habits either (i.e.. having them get the parents their drink or cigarettes).

     Children at this stage should be learning how to make good choices on their own. The first lesson is how to stand on their own and not be a follower. Role playing is an extremely useful way to teach children this. By coming up with different scenarios the child can have a base of responses that they can draw from when necessary. This will also help children gain confidence when being pressed to make the wrong choices.

     When children reach the middle school they to go through many changes, a lot of which is due to hormones. These changes make it difficult for parents and teachers to differentiate between normal rebellious behavior for this age group and those attitudes that are due to drug related activities. The authors recommend to make children of this age earn your trust. Keep on checking up on them. Is their homework done? What is in their book bag? Children this age also need more facts. Where scare tactics may have worked earlier, they need to know why certain drugs will hurt them. Let them know short term as well as long term effects. It is important to remember to speak in their language. Adults language contains years of vocabulary development that a child has not had the privilege to develop in their short-lived experiences.

     Information is also necessary for the high school student. Rules are to be laid down. Ola and D’Aulaire tell us that the experts recommend that parents be specific, consistent, and reasonable. In other words, be firm but do not make threats that you are not going to follow through on. Student involvement in the development of the rules and repercussions is a primary feature of cooperation. They need to be involved at every level, choosing their options wisely with guidance, so that they have the ultimate 'buy-in' of their own decisions for rules. Flexibility is important as well as some rules may have sounded good, although in application they fall short of the intended purpose. Willingness toward re-addressing or re-visiting the rules also helps to solidify the ability to assess, using critical thinking, and in cooperation because the levels of trust between youth and adults automatically increase. Everyone knows its in the best interest for all concerned to a build positive future.

     Even though PRIDE’S research showed the parents part as being essential in helping keep children off drugs, we feel that this is a role that teachers are increasingly finding themselves in. Parents are quite often too busy working or may be uninformed as to what is going on to spend the needed time with their children. Since teachers need to pick up the slack, we need to be well aware of what type of pressures the students are up against. The increase in drug use is showing up in middle school age children and this makes the need to start drug education early of the utmost importance. Again, engaging their participation is important. Traditionally, schools have only addressed these situations on a cursory level, mainly because of bureaucracy and the law. Recently, an anger management support group was disbanded at an inner-city school because of legal concerns of having a 'certified' facilitator. The operating facilitator was already a teacher and had taken special training in anger management, as well as having many years of study in human behavior. The students, our youth, suffered.


    There is undoubted much attention and work involved in the raising of our next generation, at any time period on history. Now, especially with the acknowledgment of many cultural and social groups that monitor the development of our civilization in the United States, we must turn the tide of our "Nation of Addicts" (cover story from Psychology Today in the 80s) through devoting the time and energy necessary to develop lasting programs and support networks for youth and adults in crisis. Community development has often been focused on the infrastructure from the perspective of administration, development, and maintenance of physical structures. Future community development must include systems that empower beneficial and positive early development. The must also include an on-going program to assist in addressing these inherent issues throughout adolescent and young adulthood. Many 'numb out' to dealing with life's issues still and yet wonder why the world is in such disrepair.

Just how do we get the audience into the act of participation now?

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