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Anti-drug group: Give your kids 'presence' for Christmas

WASHINGTON -- The national Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign urges parents to give their teens "the precious gift of time" by "remaining involved in their lives and scheduling meaningful family time throughout the holidays."

According to John P. Walters, director of the office of national drug control policy: "Parents remain THE most important influence on children, particularly when it comes to decisions about drugs.

"Research shows that spending time with your kids and talking to them about the dangers of illicit drugs are proven strategies for preventing drug use.

"The holidays provide a great opportunity to open dialogue with teens through activities like cooking, shopping, traveling or volunteering together."

Walters says surveys show that 60 percent of the nation's parents feel pressure to work too much, that 80 percent express a desire to have more time available for their families and that 84 percent says the holidays are too materialistic.

Meanwhile, other surveys indicates that half the kids interviewed say they would like to spend more time with their families.

"Parents can make a difference by scheduling one-on-one time with their child this holiday season," says Dr. Phillippe Cunningham, associate professor at the Medical University of South Carolina.

"They can find an activity their teen is interested in doing together, such as serving food at a homeless shelter, going ice skating or eating lunch at a new restaurant. Time spent with your teen is also an opportunity to talk to them about the dangers of drug use."

Officials especially urge guidance regarding marijuana, the drug most teens are likely to experiment with.

Each day, more than 4,700 kids under age 18 try marijuana for the first time, they say, and this often occurs when they are unsupervised -- after-school or during school breaks and holidays.

"Research shows that (use of) marijuana can lead to a host of health, social, learning and behavioral problems at a crucial time in their lives," a spokesman for the drug policy office says.

"Marijuana can be addictive. In fact, more teens are in treatment for marijuana dependence that for all other illicit drugs combined."

The spokesman says research indicates that kids who learn from parents or guardians about the dangers of abusing drugs are 36 percent less likely to smoke marijuana, 50 percent less likely to "huff" inhalants, 56 percent less likely to use cocaine and 65 percent less likely to use LSD.

In addition, two-thirds of kids age 13 to 17 who don't use drugs told researchers it's because they fear upsetting their parents or losing the respect of family and friends.

"When talking to children about drugs, it is important for parents to send a clear message about staying away from marijuana," the drug policy spokesman says.

"Research shows that teens with parents who strongly disapprove of trying marijuana are far less likely to have used marijuana in the past month than teens whose parents only 'somewhat disapprove' or who express no clear opinion."

She continues:

"Parents also can make a difference by monitoring where their teens are, who they are with and by setting rules with clear consequences for breaking them,.

"Lower levels of marijuana use were found among teens whose parents monitor their activities and peer relationships, limit time spent watching TV, give them responsibilities around the house and recognize the teen's successes and good behavior."

Resources are available to help parents prevent drug use at www.theantidrug.com. Parents who visit the site can send an "e-card" inviting their teen to join them in a family activity this holiday season.

The site also offers weekly parenting tips via e-mail and a free pamphlet, "Keeping Your Kids Drugfree, a How-to Guide for Parents and Caregivers."

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