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Maryland Billboard Comes Down as Parents Take Offense to Idea That Parenting Could Have Prevented Their Child’s Addiction

Just a couple of weeks ago, a billboard about preventing addiction went up on a road called Md. 355, close to Frederick, Maryland. Within days, it was covered with a black tarp. Why? Because it suggested that parenting could help prevent addiction. And parents from all over the county complained. Obviously, they had tried ‘everything’ with their child that they were capable of, or had witnessed other parents doing the same, and they took offense. So, the billboard is no longer there. And parents who protested just shot themselves – and probably a lot of other parents and kids – in the foot.

Sure, there are perfect parents out there who did everything right. But how many, really? Let’s look at the worst of situations first, then we’ll look at the parents who did everything they could.

The National Institutes of Health estimates that more than 8 million kids live with parents who are themselves involved in substance abuse. That’s more than one in ten kids. Not only does this prevent a normal, healthy and happy family life, it can sometimes get pretty bad. Up to 80 percent of those kids are abused in one way or another. Parents with a substance abuse problem are three times more likely to physically or sexually abuse their child. And those kids are 50 percent more likely to be arrested as kids, and 40 percent more likely to commit a violent crime.

And the influence of drugs and alcohol in the family doesn’t just include the parents who are involved in any kind of abuse whatsoever, they could be very, very nice and good to be around. Nevertheless, parents who sit around smoking grass or drinking beer – and those who do it on a daily basis or just get high or drunk a couple of times a week – don’t often realize that it’s effecting their kids. And they don’t consider they have a problem. But there’s no way they’re doing ‘everything they can’ or doing the best job at parenting – even if only by the things they don’t do, and the message their sending to their kids about drinking and drugs.

I also have to say that this applies to many parents who are on mood / mind altering prescription drugs, or painkillers.

And then there’s the real hard users – the ones who have to be taken care of by their kids.

Were any of the people who complained in some of those above situations? I am certain they were.

And then there’s parents who did everything they could:

  • Did they learn all about drugs and alcohol themselves and start teaching – not lecturing – their kids early so the kids really understood what they were all about? What the different drugs were, how they act on the body and mind, specific dangers connected to each one, stories about famous people – who your child might have some interest in – who’ve died because of drugs or alcohol and their loss of career, family, future, and so on. Stories about famous people who’ve overcome drug or alcohol addiction – including prescription drugs – through drug rehab programs and how it’s changed their life. Actual news stories are best so the kids can see it or themselves.
  • Did they have dinner with their kids three times a week at least? A sit down home-made dinner of some sort, rather than everyone rushing through take-out containers so they could get out of there as quickly as possible and on to their other priorities?
  • Did they participate in their kids’ life – not just by driving them from one soccer practice to another, but actually communication.
  • Did they watch over them in school? Make sure they were happy there and doing well and doing something to fix things early if not? Or, when they asked their kids how they’re doing in school and their kid said “Okay” without enthusiasm, just leave it at that?
  • Did they pay attention to any change in mood or behavior and chase it up and not let it go at he’s just tired, he’s going through growing pains, she’s becoming a teenager, or any of the myriad excuses for kids’ lives changing?
  • Did they find out what their kids wanted to achieve in life, and where their interests are an encourage / help them in any way they needed – without forcing that help on them?
  • Did they keep an eye on and make sure they knew about kids’ friends, their friends, and their families?
  • Did they make sure to look hard for other solutions before they started with prescription drugs?

I could go on and on. Doing every one of these things makes a difference. Just learning about and talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol starting early in life – because they ARE going to run into them early! – reduces the chances of kids’ using drugs or alcohol by 50 percent

But chances are that even those parents who think they did everything they could didn’t do a lot of these things.

Why? Not because they’re bad parents, but because they didn’t know. Often, they found their kids were in trouble – parents don’t find out their kids are using drugs for an average of two years after the kids have started- before they even started the process of ‘doing everything’ they could.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming parents. Some kids live horrible lives, and never get involved in drugs, alcohol, or crime. Some kids live seemingly perfect lives and get involved in one or the other, or all three. But the billboard is right – “Parenting is Prevention.” Not 100 percent, and I agree the billboard should have phrased it differently. But the message nevertheless needs to get out there.

There are a lot of parents out there who speak regularly to other parents, schools, etc. about wishing that they had known things like the above. Those parents are the examples that should be followed. They know there were things that could have been done, and they’re spreading the word to other parents.

They also know it’s possible that knowing everything and doing everything right might not have prevented whatever tragedy they and their children have suffered.

But getting your back up about someone saying there were things you could have done – even though those things would have had to happen years before there was a problem, and you didn’t even know about them – can encourage other parents to also have an attitude about what they can and can’t, should and shouldn’t do. And those parents could wind up in your same situation.

“Perfect”parent or not, to parents who don’t want to find themselves in the same tragic position in the future as you did, you’re sending the wrong message.

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