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Jon Sundt

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Innovating Drug Abuse Prevention

Posted: 11/15/2013 9:47 pm

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Thomas Barwick via Getty Images

As a father, sometimes I don't know how exactly to reach my kids. There are times when I feel if I don't say what I need to in a text or hashtag, I'm not going to get through. Our children live in a world in which they're bombarded with messages, coming at them instantly from every angle.

I can't help but worry that the right ones won't get through all the noise. I know this concern is shared among many parents -- particularly with regard to alcohol and drug abuse. With social media exacerbating the glamorization of substance abuse in traditional media, how do we make sure positive messages still get through? We need to find the right opportunities to talk about how we can help push prevention messages to our children.

Through Natural High, an organization I founded, I've learned a thing or two about drug prevention. Natural High's message is a positive one: It encourages youth to discover, amplify and pursue their natural highs so that they can say no to artificial ones. Rather than barking the "just say no" message, or using ineffective scare tactics, we seek to inspire kids to "say yes" to their natural highs, and that if they do, they will be much more likely to reject drugs.

But that's not all. We as an organization -- and as parents -- need to keep ourselves updated on the forms of communication our kids are using. We need to evolve our own communication methods in order to reach them in a way that they will best hear us. It's a combination of innovation and involvement that will help our positive messages reach our kids.

Speak their language.

It's hard, I know, but embracing tools like social media and technology will help us level with our children and be more present in their lives. They are operating in a world of instant information and instant gratification. They're online, they're on iPads, they're on Instagram. If we too exist in that world, we can learn their language and be more aware of the kinds messages they're receiving. This was a driving force behind my own organization updating how we deliver the Natural High message: now online and via iPad app. Times have changed -- we need to change with them.

Practice, don't preach.

Telling people how to live their life does not change behavior. True behavior change takes empathy, guidance and time. Don't preach to children. Rather, lead by example and provide a healthy environment that allows for self-expression. Children will emulate the behaviors they witness from family and friends. Be a healthy role model by pursuing your own natural highs.

Keep your kids active.

While kids might communicate online, they still need good old-fashioned play time. Keep your kids involved. Keep them moving. Take them to play soccer, surf or play tag in the park. Get them away from their computer screens -- give them a break from the noise. Physical activity stimulates chemicals in the brain to make kids feel naturally high, and kids who feel an appreciation for their bodies and their abilities are less likely to compromise them with drugs or alcohol.

Follow passions.

Expose your kids to lots of different activities and let them find what they love. Encourage them to pursue their passions. It will allow them to experience invigorating emotions. Not only is this good for your kid's mind and spirit as they mature and develop, but will make them less likely to spend time engaging in negative behaviors that would keep them from feeling the natural high they get from pursuing their passions. They won't have time or energy for drugs and alcohol -- they'll be focused on something else.

Redefine cool.

Every day kids are bombarded with mixed messages about drugs -- that they're "cool" and that "everybody is using them." The truth is, despite what sensationalist media might have kids believe, the majority of kids' peers and celebrity role models are NOT using drugs and instead are pursuing a natural high.

Help kids redefine "cool" by having them watch a Natural High video one day a week. Then start a conversation with them by asking what their natural high is -- you might be surprised.

 
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