Talk about drugs, alcohol in back to school prep

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This was a column written by Sara Rossow and published in the Kanabec County Times on August 15th, 2013. Click here to view the original column.

As the summer days become shorter and the “Back to School” sale signs appear in the storefront windows, families begin to make preparations to return to the routine and structure of the school year.

Parents must purchase school supplies, find the “right” pair of sneakers, fill out a ream of school forms, and begin talking with their children about the upcoming school year.

We might talk with our kids about our expectations for their grades, about which activities they will participate in after school, and maybe even talk about “big” issues like bullying or being a good friend.

One conversation that often does not happen until it is too late is a conversation about tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs. Parents may assume their kids know their expectations about substance use. They may also worry that if they bring it up, it will “plant seeds” in their kids’ heads and their kids would be more likely to use.

They may not be sure what to say or how to say it and so just don’t say anything at all. They may also think that if they ever irresponsibly used substances in the past, that they might worry that it is hypocritical to have expectations for their own children. They might think that their kids won’t listen to them anyway because they are “old” and irrelevant.

We know that parents have a huge influence on their kids – even their teenage children. The Partnership for a Drug Free America states on their website that “Parents have more influence over their child than friends, music, TV, and Internet and celebrities.” In fact, kids whose parents teach them about the risks of drugs and alcohol are up to 50 percent less likely to use substances than those who don’t.

This conversation doesn’t have to be a lecture. In fact, it probably shouldn’t be a lecture. Use natural moments to have those “big conversations” – maybe it can happen while you’re out in the boat, working in the garden, or even while you’re driving them somewhere in the car. When you notice someone engaging in troubling behavior in the news or on a television show, talk about it.

My own children are fairly young but they know that smoking is unhealthy, that alcohol is for adults over the age of 21, and that illegal drugs should never be used by anyone. These conversations can begin as soon as they can notice alcohol advertisements or see someone smoking a cigarette.

As your child gets older, the conversations can and should continue. It is important that parents make their expectation regarding substance use clear and to also be clear about what the consequences will be if their child breaks their trust. Our coalition recommends creating a contract, in writing, that outlines those expectations and consequences. You can find guidelines for creating this contract at

I urge parents not to underestimate the power and influence they have in the lives of their kids. It is easy to see the eyerolls, the long sighs, and the disdainful looks and assume that our kids could care less what we think.

The reality is, that all kids want to make their parents proud and they want their parents to provide boundaries.

Letting your child know that you do not want them to use chemicals is providing a boundary and communicating that you care about their well-being. If you would like more guidance in how to have conversations with your kids or have any other questions about parenting, please feel free to call met at Mora High School at 320-679-6220. I’m there to help.

Sara Rossow is a school social worker at Mora Public School and a member of the Substance Abuse Coalition of Kanabec County (SACK). SACK is administered by Kanabec County Public Health. For more information about the coalition visit

Posted in Alcohol, News/Announcements, Other Drug Use, Tobacco, Tools for Making Healthy Choices.