ERIC Identifier: ED427093
Publication Date: 1997-12-00
Author: Schwartz, Wendy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Urban Education New York NY.
Urban School-Community Parent Programs To Prevent Drug Use.
ERIC/CUE Digest, Number 130.
The role that youth drug use plays in school failure, violence, and
anti-social and self-destructive behavior is well known. It is also known that
parents strongly influence their children's decisions about drug use: parents
model substance abstinence or abuse; express attitudes about drugs, alcohol, and
tobacco; and control their children's exposure to drugs by monitoring their
activities, behavior, and friendships (Cohen & Linton, 1995; Cohen &
Over the years, hundreds of school and community drug prevention programs for
children and adolescents have been implemented, especially in areas where social
or economic problems seem to stoke experimentation with drugs. An essential
component of effective programs is parent participation (along with community
and media support), and there are ways to usefully involve all types of parents.
Programs involving families not only prevent children's drug use, but also
provide parents with resources that enhance their own lives, and reinforce and
increase the benefits of family life overall (Jones, 1997). Also, parents are
increasingly acting with each other or independently to develop community drug
prevention programs and to provide their children with positive alternatives to
This digest briefly discusses some ways to involve families in their
children's drug prevention education.
YOUTH DRUG PREVENTION STRATEGIES
Because youth experiment
with drugs for the same reasons that they engage in other negative behaviors,
the most effective prevention programs concentrate on helping them develop
constructive ways to manage stress in their lives. They present factual
information about the consequences of drug, alcohol, and nicotine addiction; and
demonstrate the fallacy of youth's belief that drugs can alleviate their pain.
They offer skills building curricula which cover clear communication, anger
management, conflict resolution, and self- esteem. Afternoon and weekend
programs, considered essential by many experts, provide a safe place for youth
to spend time when their families are not home; there, they can engage in sports
and other group activities that allow them to feel good about themselves, and
receive educational supports (Ertle, 1995).
Drug prevention education is a
natural component of the family resource centers, common in urban schools, which
provide and coordinate social services. Schools focus on supporting, not fixing,
parents, and on promoting protective factors rather than reducing risks. The
result is that parents are new and willing prevention partners (Cohen &
Rice, 1995; Ertle, 1995). Schools are also encouraging students, staff, and
parents to recognize the many positive experiences that families provide; and
they are expanding the definition of family to include blended, single-parent,
extended, and foster families. The goal is to encourage family closeness and
support, satisfying the needs of youth that otherwise might drive them to gang
membership (Domino & Carroll, 1994). In fact, the close-knit family systems
characteristic of Latino groups have helped protect their youth from
dysfunctional behavior, and they serve as a model for work with all families
Many parents are reluctant to work with
schools, or even to go into their children's school building, because of their
own past negative experiences with education, feelings of intimidation, or
differences in language and class that separate them from school personnel.
Therefore, using an intermediary from the community (designated as an outreach
coordinator), preferably a person respected as a local leader or an active
member of the parents' church or ethnic group, often increases parent
participation in drug prevention activities (Ertle, 1995). So does meeting in
churches, community centers, or other non-school locations. It may even be
necessary to use mobile outreach units to bring information and resources to
families at home or at places where they gather (Bickel, 1995). The coordinator,
using the parents' native language and conveying respect and support, can elicit
their concerns about family and community problems and solicit suggestions for
solving them. The coordinator can also help parents understand that they are
being asked to help create and manage anti-drug interventions, not simply follow
the orders of school personnel (Ertle, 1995).
Some parents do not participate in drug prevention activities because they do
not realize that drug use is a local problem. They may simply lack information
because they are new to the area or not informed, or they may refuse to
acknowledge the demonstrated existence of drugs in the misguided hope that doing
so will prevent them from reaching their own home. It is important, therefore,
for trusted people, such as the outreach coordinator, to be sure that families
are provided with the facts about the local drug situation (Bickel, 1995; Cohen
& Linton, 1995).
Unfortunately, the families most at risk of having a child use drugs,
possibly because adults in the home are users, are hardest to engage in
prevention activities. Many, however, are willing to participate in other, more
general, programs, such as those that consist of youth bonding activities;
cultural, sports, and fun events; and forums on health and child rearing. These
can include an anti-drug component (Gardner, Green, & Marcus, 1994).
To encourage parent involvement in school
drug prevention programs, schools should make efforts to increase family trust
(Bickel, 1995). To encourage parents' initiation of anti-drug interventions at
home and, with other parents, in the community, schools need to equip parents
with information and strategies to increase the effectiveness of their efforts.
Outreach should be respectful of parents' innate abilities and ultimate
responsibility for child rearing. Information can be provided directly in
anti-drug forums, but experience has shown that parent participation is greater
when drug prevention is included in a more comprehensive program. For example, a
life skills program can also offer English language instruction, job training,
help with dealing with public agencies, and other services benefiting
disadvantaged families. A family wellness program can also cover developing and
maintaining good family relationships and solving family problems (Ertle, 1995).
One key topic for parents to explore is how to develop and maintain their
natural leadership in the home. This involves good communication of values and
appropriate expectations, active listening to their children's concerns, and
good family problem solving. Parents may feel particularly vulnerable when their
children approach adolescence and are faced with a myriad of new child rearing
issues (Szapocznik, 1995).
Another important parent concern is how the ability to deliver an effective
anti-drug message can be compromised by differences in acculturation and English
language proficiency across generations. The greater the gaps, the more likely
there will be conflicts within the family, and between generations and cultures,
with the result that youth reject their family's values. In addition, when youth
serve as translators for their elders, the natural balance of power can be
reversed, with an ensuing devaluation of parental authority. In addition to
preserving their authority, minority and immigrant parents need to foster a
strong sense of family belonging in order to protect their children from
feelings of societal isolation and marginalization that can lead to anti-social
behavior (Szapocznik, 1995).
Parents who are themselves drug users, or who used substances in the past may
need guidance in answering their children's questions. Past users may indicate
that the harmful effects of using certain drugs were not known when they did so;
that while they were not harmed, other people suffered severe consequences; and
that they decided they felt better when clean. Current users need professional
help in dealing with their own addiction and their children's concerns (National
Parents can engage in a wide range of
activities independently and with the local school and community groups.
Organizations that initiate projects should encourage parents' feelings of
ownership to maintain their involvement, support, and enthusiasm (Bickel, 1995).
The following are some examples of parent activities with demonstrated
effectiveness (Bickel, 1995; Cohen & Rice, 1995; Ertle, 1995; Szapocznik,
*Parent volunteers can improve school safety by monitoring the campus, halls,
and bathrooms. They can also sit in with teachers who are experiencing
disruption in class.
*Parent volunteers, identified by badges, can serve as "neighborhood
watchers" to ensure students' safe travel to and from school, and to offer them
protection from dealers and bullies.
*Parents can work with schools and community groups to organize after-school
and weekend programs to engage students constructively. They can also organize
or chaperon proms, parties, and games that might be sites for drug activity.
*Parents can initiate networks of parents to keep informed about local issues
and to work together to keep their children safe. They can organize "hotlines"
to keep others informed and to deal with crises. Parent mentors can provide
parents new to the area with information about local drug prevention efforts and
encourage their involvement.
*In groups, parents and children can share their thoughts and information
about drug use so that local drug activity is revealed and parents' attitudes
are clearly conveyed. Children can identify their friends so parents learn who
might be influencing them.
*Parents can institute family meetings, common in Latino households, that
provide all members with a sense of belonging and provide an opportunity to
discuss important issues and share concerns.
Effective school-family collaborations to
prevent youth drug use require mutual respect; an accurate understanding of the
nature and concerns of community members and the local problems; and an ongoing
commitment of time and resources by everyone involved. It is important that the
responsibilities for both decision making and tasks be shared, and that
assignments be clearly stated. Above all, families must feel confident that they
can share problems with others, that confidentiality will be maintained, and
that they will receive useful and sustained help and support.
Bickel, A.S. (1995, September). Family
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prevention programs. Portland, OR: Western Center for Drug-Free Schools and
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Cohen, D. A., & Linton, K.L.P. (1995). Parent participation in an
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Cohen, D.A., & Rice, J.C. (1995, April). A parent-targeted intervention
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Domino, V. A., & Carroll, K. (1994, November). Back to basics:
Celebrating the family schoolwide, curriculumwide. Schools in the Middle, 4(2),
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Ertle, V. (Ed). (1995). Sharing your success V: Summaries of successful
programs and strategies supporting drug-free schools and communities. Portland,
OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory and Western Center for Drug-Free
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Gardner, S.E., Green, P.F., & Marcus, C.M. (Eds.). (1994). Signs of
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factor/resiliency-based approach. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse
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Jones, R. (1997, January). More than just no. American School Board Journal,
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National PTA. (1996). Keeping youth drug-free: A guide for parents,
grandparents, elders, mentors, and other caregivers. Chicago: Author. (ED 398
Szapocznik, J. (Ed.) (1995). A Hispanic/Latino family approach to substance
abuse prevention. CSAP Cultural Competence Series 2. Rockville, MD: Center for
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