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RACSB Offers Tips for Parents as Families Emerge from the Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a traumatic event in the lives of many children, cutting them off from peers, schools and favorite activities.

The pandemic unrolled amid a parallel public health crisis of opioid abuse and overdose. 

This is an important moment to evaluate how you talk to your children and teenagers about drugs, alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.

The Rappahannock Area Community Services Board partners with local law enforcement, healthcare and social services agencies to provide training and information about substance abuse, safe drug disposal options and family strategies that can empower children to make good choices.

Troubling trends

The Virginia Medical Examiner’s office is projecting a 26% increase in fatal drug overdoses for 2020, compared to 2019. Experts believe pandemic isolation has played a significant role in this increase. 

The Fredericksburg area (Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Stafford, King George and Caroline counties), reported 58 overdose fatalities from January to June of 2020, versus 38 for the same period of 2019.

Talk to your kids throughout their childhood

Local pediatrician Anne Bradshaw, who is a member of area working groups that seek to address the drug crisis, said parents should open discussion with their children in elementary school. Studies now show that drug use starts for some children at this age.

The idea is to prepare children for a time when drugs or other substances may be offered to them—and this means taking a multi-faceted approach.

“Knowledge is power,” Bradshaw said. “Listening is key, and not just lecturing. Spending time with them helps you to have that open dialog with your child.”

Among her tips for fostering that open dialog:

  • Talk about what a real friend is, and how to build strong friendships. “A friend will encourage you and like you for who you are,” Bradshaw said. “They won’t reject you if you choose not to use drugs or alcohol with them.”
  • Be open about the ways that modern media glamorize substance abuse and marijuana use among celebrities and social media stars. Talk about the real-life consequences of these choices.
  • Have clear and consistent rules based on your family’s values. Use statements like, “In our family, we _____.”
  • Bring it down to a level they can understand. Talk about how use of drugs, alcohol, tobacco or marijuana can prevent them from participating in sports, dance, theater, jobs or other important aspects of their daily lives.
  • Encourage activities that build kids’ self-esteem and self-worth. Praise their efforts, and praise them when they make good choices.

“You really want to build them up so that they are strong enough to handle that peer pressure when it comes,” Bradshaw said.

During the teen years, when children may be more likely to be out on their own at a gathering or party, Bradshaw said having an emergency code that your child can text to you at any time and get a response—either a call back or a pickup—is a good idea. 

By having regular conversations from a young age, you can ensure children will feel safe calling you, knowing you’ll support them for making a choice to remove themselves from a potentially dangerous situation.

“Knowledge is power,” Bradshaw said. “Listening is key, and not just lecturing. Spending time with them helps you to have that open dialog with your child.”

And, she urges, always remember that your children are listening to you—and watching you.

“Parents are the strongest influence on their children,” she said. “I know teenagers tend to act like they aren’t listening to their parents, but if you have created that open dialog, even if they act like they aren’t listening—they are.”

Be vigilant

In the “Hidden in Plain Sight” workshops that RACSB puts on in partnership with other area organizations, community experts guide participants through a virtual tour of a teen bedroom, stopping at items that may appear mundane, but are actually warning signs of a substance abuse problem.

For example, teens can easily buy “stash devices” that look like everyday items, such as a plastic water bottle. Chief Craig Branch of the Germanna Community College Police Department said it’s important for parents to pick up items in their children’s rooms and inspect them. Stash devices will be noticeably heavier than the items they’re made to mimic.

E-cigarettes are also being manufactured to look like things like computer mouses and USB drives. Taking a close look could help you spot a problem.

“Don’t feel bad about picking it up and checking it,” he said. “It’s OK to be nosy. They are children.”

Virginia law is changing

The Virginia General Assembly voted this year to make it legal for adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana effective July 1. It’s also legal for adults to have up to four marijuana plants at their home. Parents should be aware of this change, as marijuana has been shown to have significant negative impacts on growing brains—and that growth continues into early adulthood. Area law enforcement officials also warn that today’s marijuana is far more potent than the marijuana of 10 or 20 years ago, and it is increasingly likely to be laced with more harmful drugs and synthetic substances. It’s important for parents to include marijuana in family discussions about saying no to harmful substances.

Tools for talking

Talk. They hear you.

Parents Empowered

Operation Prevention

Get Smart About Drugs (DEA)

Just Think Twice

Don’t be an accidental dealer

No matter how old your children are, it’s important to keep medications secured in a lockbox or similar device in your home, and to keep an inventory of medicine so that you can know if it starts going missing. Expired or unused drugs can be disposed of at a number of sites around our community. Find a complete map at: 

http://bit.ly/PD16DrugDropOffSites

Learn about additional upcoming programs at rappahannockareacsb.org.

Stay tuned to Fredericksburg Parent’s Facebook and YouTube channels for a video interview in June with Rappahannock Area Community Services Board.

Emily Freehling
Emily Freehling is an award-winning journalist who helps Fredericksburg Parent and Family's advertisers tell valuable stories through magazine advertorials and videos. Emily also produces content for a wide variety of other clients and outlets. Find her on LinkedIn and at emilyfreehling.com.

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