Susan Gitau is a counseling psychologist, an International Certified Addiction Professional(ICAP). She has been at it for 16 years and was the first Kenyan to get ICAP level 3 accreditation. She has also been a consultant with NACADA since 2004. She gives JACQUELINE MAHUGU tips on what parents can do to help protect their children from drugs.
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1. Don't be naiive
We are learning that parents are naïve. I do tests and sometimes a child tests positive for marijuana but that the parent says that what I am using is not working. They tell you "No, this boy has never even used cigarettes." Sometimes they pay for second and third times and eventually the child says "Ok, I have smoked once." which cannot possibly be true, because the levels in his system shows that he smokes every day. The testing has change the game. There is a serious stigma associated with drug addiction and parents do not want to admit it exists.
2. Provide a stable family
Having a stable family means there are no issues, even if it is a single parent family. There should be rules and regulations and with good values. Sometimes I test a child and the child tells you, "What's the big deal? Even dad smokes!" Be the role model.
3. Be nice
When children grow into teenage hood, many parents become too hard on them, always berating them. That means you do not have a good relationship. What happens to that adolescent is that they will opt to stay with their friends and parents really cannot imagine what they talk about. They talk about drug use and sex, plus the internet has messed everything up, so that's also a problem.
4. Be the first line of defence
Parents are not in the know. They lack knowledge and therefore cannot pass it on. Even when giving talks to highly educated parents, usually I can see that they have no clue, completely blank. There is no information about prevention science. This is whereby you as the parents start talking to your child early enough about the consequences of drug use.
5. Keep at it
Continually talk to your children. Do not put a gap there, do not get lax. Talk to them not by lecturing them, but by telling them things like, "These are the expectations I have for you. I am expecting you to finish college and to have good friends."
6. Know your child's friends
Friends will usually behave the same way.
If your child starts hanging out with friends that you don't know and you suspect are drug users, chances are your child is also using.
7. Know the early indicators of alcohol or drug use.
Most children stop using drugs once they realize that the parents have found out, because they did not want it to be known by their parents. Being on the lookout for it can prevent it from going any further at the early stages.
8. Be close to your child
This will help you notice subtle changes such as mood changes. They will exhibit anger that you can't explain, lack of inhibition and over defensiveness when questioned about it. The way a child reacts when you try to talk about drugs is very telling. When we ask them about use of drugs or alcohol, a child who is already using will likely ask you where your evidence is. The ones who do not use will not understand that you need evidence to prove it. They would say, "Why would you think I am using drugs? Let us do the test."
9. Do not ignore extreme changes
Do not get into denial. When you see certain signs, it is likely they are using and you should seek help. If they become violent and verbally abusive to the younger children at home, to the help, become very loud or obnoxious, refusing to interact in social situations and always want to be withdrawn, these are indicators. Watch for: extreme shifts in sleep patterns, energy levels, dilated pupils and drastic weight gain or loss.
Paranoid moods. The child starts acting as if they are being persecuted, especially in school. They will start talking about teachers and the school not liking them and you may end up taking them to several schools as a remedy. Parents may try to justify the reasons for moving them to so many schools, but if they are honest with themselves, they would realize that their child has a problem and that problem may be drug abuse.
10. Stay vigilant
When we take our children to the mall, sometimes they disappear and come back later. I have issues with parents allowing this because when where do you think your child is? We believe that a mall is an enclose space so they are safe, when the reality is that if a child wants drugs they can go to any mall, each of which has several peddlers. These peddlers dress up like them and the children know who is selling weed, who is selling alcohol, who is selling ecstasy and so forth. They then do them in the toilet or somewhere else that is hidden.
A lot of parents think that giving a child money is love. When you give your child too much money, what do you imagine they are doing with it? Some parents with children in boarding schools give them as much as sh6,000 as pocket money. Children will look for things to do with that money, and after they feel they have enough clothes, a nice phone, they will tire of them and the next thing is going out, drugs and alcohol.
Stealing money or asking for money which never seems to be enough, because drug money can never be enough.
12. Watch their siblings
Sometimes brothers and sisters are using and the parents find out that one of them is using, they bring them to therapy. However, therapy seems not to be working and I wonder what the problem is. Sometimes I ask them and they say, "I am trying to stop but my brother smokes and brings it home, so I am trying to stop with all the skills you have given me but that makes it difficult."