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Strengthening Families to Prevent Teen Drug Use

Experts say one way to prevent young people from using drugs is to strengthen family relationships, so that youth develop an open and trusting relationship with parents. "Parenting Wisely," an online-based SAMHSA-model program developed by Family Works, Inc., teaches parents how to better communicate with their teenage kids and disciplinary strategies that can help gain their children's trust.

"Kids who are more likely to use illegal substances excessively often times have behavioral problems—substance abuse is one of them. Our program teaches parents to gain control of these behavioral problems," explained Donald Gordon, former psychology professor and President of Family Works, Inc.

"Parenting Wisely" is a computer-based program that teaches parents about the importance of supervising and monitoring their teens; and effective disciplinary tactics, such as parent-child contracts, which facilitate discussions among families, and indicate the rewards and consequences of breaking the rules. The program also provides strategies that parents can use to improve communication with their teens. "We teach parents how to listen to their kids so kids will want to talk to their parents by teaching them to use active listening—a way of reflecting back what children say and showing interest," Gordon noted. "They also learn how to voice their complaints in a way that doesn't put a kid down."

Unlike other parenting education programs, "Parenting Wisely" comes on a CD so it can be used by parents from their own computer. This, Gordon says, makes it easier to reach those families that might feel embarrassed to talk to a professional about family issues.

The program has been shown to reduce risky behaviors among youth. "We typically see a 30 to 60 percent drop in teen behavioral problems, and find that parent and child substance abuse diminishes," Gordon said.