There are many dimensions related to promoting positive health and wellness in our children. Parental involvement, support and consistent monitoring and supervision are critical to overall healthy physical, mental and emotional development. Conversations regarding promoting positive mental, physical and behavioral health need to start early with children and should be on-going dialogues.
Generally, we speak openly about the incidence of physical conditions (heart disease, cancer, diabetes) but are reticent to talk with candor about issues surrounding mental and behavioral health. The stigma often associated with mental illness or substance abuse stems from misperceptions. Starting a public dialogue, seeking policy support, educating others and initiating conversations with children can help overcome this stigma so that substance abuse can be discussed in the same way as diabetes, heart disease or any other illness. Starting this dialogue with children early on is a significant step towards promoting positive mental and behavioral health. When discussing issues related to substance abuse with younger children, the parental tone is usually prohibitive in nature. This may be warranted when children are young. As children approach elementary, middle and high school however, they are experiencing not only physical developmental changes but emotional developmental changes as well. During these periods, it is important that the parental tone shift to a truly conversational one—one that invites dialogue and discussion.
On-going conversations related to promoting positive lifestyles should also happen in unison with educators, counselors, community leaders and youth. We need to work collaboratively and without borders to ensure that we are reaching positive, sustainable outcomes for our children.
Abuse and addiction to alcohol, nicotine and illicit drugs cost us more than $700 billion a year in increased healthcare costs, crime and death. Each year, more than 90,000 deaths are the result of alcohol, illicit and prescription drugs while tobacco is linked to an estimated 480,000 deaths per year. These statistics as well as the ones outlined below should be shared with children:
- Alcohol is involved in 37% of all traffic deaths among persons aged 16 to 20 (NIH, 2016).
- More than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids—nearly double in a decade. (CDC WONDER)
- Regular, heavy marijuana use by teens can lead to an IQ drop of up to 8 points.
- Every dollar invested in prevention efforts saves communities on average $18.00.
Our collective prevention efforts need to start early. Teachers, parents and healthcare professionals can shape children’s perceptions about the risks of drug abuse, and its negative impact on adolescent brain development. The frontal lobe of the brain—the part of the brain that enables us to assess situations and make sound decisions– is continuing to develop and mature during adolescence. Introducing and more importantly abusing drug during the fragile developmental period can cause profound and long-lasting changes within the brain.
Here are eight steps that we can take to promote positive lifestyles in children:
- Ensure that children feel safe and identify things that you have put in place to maximize safety and security at home and school;
- Focus on a child’s strengths and gifts particularly when he/she is engaging in risky or unsafe behaviors;
- Help children see a link between their thoughts, feelings and actions;
- Help children understand and manage overwhelming emotions and behaviors;
- Encourage healthy, positive and stable relationships within and outside of the family;
- Provide opportunities for children to take risks and make mistakes as this increases their self-concept and self-worth;
- Advocate for your child and recognize that it takes a team of individuals to support healthy development.
- Invest in self-care and encourage your child to do so as well.
The sooner we can start the dialogue with children, the better.