How Do You Prevent Addiction In Kids?

March 19, 2021 By Aaron Young

Linda Verst, KY Certified Prevention SpecialistBy Linda Verst, KY Certified Prevention Specialist

There’s much work that’s been done on “What makes kids resilient?” I like it, and I try to practice it mindfully, since I first heard it. The version I’m sharing here came from Bonnie Benard and Emmy Werner in the 1980’s on what makes children resilient. They looked at research on kids who grew up in war-torn countries, in poverty and as children of single parents. I like their take, as it is easy to recall and apply. It is simple and practical.

The best way I know to teach it is to ask the question: “Who made you strong?” Take a few minutes right here, and think about the person(s) in your own life who helped you to become who you are today.

When I do this, people mostly come up with behaviors and qualities in adults who helped them be resilient and skills they learned from these grown ups.

Benard and Werner found four areas of resiliency skills that can be taught to children formally and informally, and 3 types of protective factors that adults use to make it happen. Here these are, as I recall them:

    Resiliency skills

    • A sense of purpose and future – I have goals and expectations and I know what kind of person I want to be.

    • Problem solving skills – anything from simply knowing how to solve a math problem, to how can I get from a to b when it’s not a direct route.

    • Social skills – here, I think of my husband; he taught our kids to be polite to the cop who pulls you over – always use respect, honesty & communicate clearly.

    • Autonomy – the ability to stick to my own plans when seemingly all others are going a different way.

    Protective Factors foster resiliency:

    • Caring and Support – kids need to know we really care what they do, what happens to them, and that they will be supported no matter what.

    • High Expectations – We want to encourage them to do their very best and catch them with positive feedback when they do.

    • Meaningful Participation – I do things that benefit others; it feels so good to contribute.

Pretty simple stuff, and yet if we are mindful and present in any child’s life, whether it be my child, a neighbor, a child on my sports team or church, any adult can contribute to a child’s resiliency.

Many people think of a parent or grandparent when first asked “Who made you strong?” I thought of a Roman Catholic nun, my homeroom teacher in high school. I brought a list of words to school that I had lifted off my mom’s medical report, since no one at home would tell me what was wrong. She explained that ALS was a neurological disease, and defined the phrase “poor prognosis of recovery”. She did this with great care and support; it meant so much to me, that I still see it as pivotal after 50 years!

Please note: There’s a lot of research on genetics & substance abuse that I don’t address here. Read about it, though. Your kids need to know their family history. It can help them make wise choices.

What specifics do we teach about alcohol, and other drugs?

    Think about the inoculations you get for children when they are small. Most would not consider skipping those! Yet we are self -conscious about inoculating for sex, tobacco, alcohol & drugs which can derail our kids as early as late elementary or middle school! Understand this: It’s our parental responsibility.

    Be age appropriate, but begin to address the alcohol/other drug issue early. Protect them – keep medicines and alcohol out of their reach. Teach that you don’t take other’s medicines. Beware the “monkey see, monkey do” principle – they don’t always hear what you say – say it anyway, but remember, they watch everything you do. Address your own addiction issues.

    Start early, keep at it. You don’t do the appropriate medicine talk once and think it’s done. Potty training doesn’t work that way. Hitting a baseball or riding a bike doesn’t work that way. Answer questions honestly. If they don’t come up, bring them up periodically.

    Use teachable moments. Keep an eye out – they’re everywhere. Ask your child what beer commercials are saying to you. Is it that their beer makes you sexy? Cool? Someone you know died of a heroin overdose? A middle or high schooler needs to know how you feel about this. They need to know that you care, and that you love and don’t want to lose them.

    Set clear standards and boundaries. Stick by them. Example “You are expected not to drink underage. Prescription drugs taken for fun are extremely dangerous. I expect you not to do this.” Say it; stick to it.

    Be honest, but use your own history judiciously, not glorifying. Research indicates that teens think “Wow, he lived through it, I will, too.” In addition, it is important to remember that many drugs are far stronger than previously. It’s not about you, it’s about your child.

    Got a teen? Now’s not the time to let go of the reins. Be vigilant. Can’t stay awake? Sleep in her bed to be sure she came home on time. Let her know she can call if she finds herself in a pickle. My girls taught me this: always keep a bottle of water in your hand at parties. Don’t drink anything someone else opened.

    Find times to just talk and listen, not lecture. I lay in bed next to them in the dark. Sometimes they’ll talk in the car, or on a blanket under the stars. Listen.

    Did you know that most kids get alcohol or prescription drugs from their own home or a friend’s home? Did you know that when parents collect the keys and allow drinking, their kids are more likely to drink and drive or ride with a drunk driver than kids whose parents take a no use stand? Key fact: the longer you delay onset of first use of alcohol/tobacco/other drugs, the less likely one will develop life-long addiction.

    Mom and Dad don’t agree? Read the research. Be as one on this. Join forces with like-minded parents at your church or school. These facts have been researched often, yet many adults ignore the facts.

They may be angry when you set standards, check where they are and who they’re with, but nobody said raising kids is easy. We’re the adults – it’s our responsibility to stand up to the pressure. They don’t often act like it, but research has indicated time and again, that parents have more influence on their children than anyone else in their lives. Use it.



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Photo by Maggie Stodghill, Student, Atherton High School

When Linda Verst and her recovering husband realized that their children would have a high risk for SUDs as a result of genetics and family history, they zeroed in on prevention research nearly 40 years ago. As a result, Linda became one of KY’s first internationally certified Prevention Specialists, holding certificate #0007!

Linda became a “friend of Bill W’s wife, Lois” over 50 years ago. These days she’s retired from the prevention field, but continues to maintain certification and stays interested in current research. She’s a widow, now, with 5 adult children and 11 grandkids on whom she can practice her skills.

She enjoys sharing what she’s learned about treatment and prevention, along with her own experience, strength and hope as a volunteer. Although Covid has put a crimp in her style, she continues to volunteer at treatment centers, her local county detention center and in speaking engagements. Linda says: “I find that while many parents are unaware of the need for research based prevention, newly recovering folks are excited and even anxious to learn there are ways they can assist their kids in growing up healthy and resilient, giving them a better likelihood of remaining drug free.”



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