PREVENTION WEEK REFLECTION FROM PARTNERSHIP TO END ADDICTION CEO CREIGHTON DRURY: LET’S BEGIN WITH PROMOTING
Many years ago, I had the honor of serving as Director of Prevention for the State of New Jersey. Ostensibly, my role was to lead and coordinate statewide efforts to prevent young people from engaging with gangs and the criminal justice system. Apparently, I was qualified because of my experience working with young people through the schools and related leadership, afterschool, and residential programs my organization provided for thousands of kids in Paterson, New Jersey.
Truth be told, I never liked that title, “Director of Prevention.” In my mind, the word “prevention” conjures images of what happens when my favorite football team plays a fabulous game, dominating the opposing team offensively for three quarters, building a big lead, and then, invariably, shifting its game plan in the fourth quarter to protect its lead – by going into the dreaded “prevent defense.” Any football fan will tell you that some of the greatest comebacks of all time have taken place against teams who shifted from an offensive mindset into a “prevent defense” one.
In my many years working with young people, and in my current role leading Partnership to End Addiction, I have come to recognize that it is much more effective to focus on promoting the things we want, rather than on preventing the things we don’t want. This paradigm shift can make all the difference.
What are the positive things we want for our kids? Well, a big part is making sure they feel that we’re supportive of their hopes and dreams. It is also important for them to feel listened to, loved and surrounded by support. For certain, we want our children to feel good and healthy and to be well-informed so they can learn how to make positive decisions. In most cases, we want our children to feel safe; yes, because being safe is important, but also because feeling safe offers them the foundation from which they can engage in healthy risk-taking – important for every young person’s development.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an opportune time to check in with our kids and better understand how they are feeling. By paying attention and making efforts to connect, we have a better idea of what is going on in their lives – their experiences and feelings. That helps us detect underlying issues that may require additional support or professional guidance. These moments of connection offer meaningful opportunities to spotlight the positive behaviors we want to promote for our children, rather than dwelling on negatives that we want to prevent. For example, encouraging kids to try new things, and help them see how healthy habits – like exercise, art, sports, or socializing – can be fun and actually more effective for alleviating their stress, anxiety or sad feelings than less healthy habits like substance use or excessive screen time. Even better, model those behaviors yourself or join your child in trying new things.
This is such an important part of our work at the Partnership. We understand that the world can be stressful and that worrying about our kids’ mental health and substance use might simply be one more cause of stress for you, the parent – and your mental health!
We are here every day for parents and other caring adults who are concerned and have questions about potential mental health or substance use challenges with their children. We will listen and empathize and help point you in the right direction for the appropriate support. We are also here to remind everyone that effective “prevention” begins with positive “promotion.” Our Raising Resilient Kids initiative is designed to spread this message and remind parents and caregivers that, just as how the “prevent defense” strategy on the football field is rarely as effective as continuing a strong offensive strategy, focusing on promoting positive outcomes for our kids is more effective than constantly trying to push back against the outcomes we don’t want for them.
If you have questions or think you might benefit from some information, help or support, please reach out to us at drugfree.org where you can get answers to your questions or speak to one of our trained specialists by phone, email or text. You can also access our Raising Resilient Kids resources which offer tips on positive parenting techniques and strategies.