The greatest weapon a parent has for keeping drugs away from their kids is the kitchen table.
That's one of the lessons taught in the Strengthening Families Program, a free six-week course for parents and their children between the ages of 10 and 14, sponsored by Davis Behavioral Health and the Davis School District.
That adolescent age group is at a critical point, encompassing as it does the junior high years -- a transitional time for kids.
"That's a big time for kids, when they are trying to discover who they are, who they are going to be," said Kim Smith, social worker at the Davis School District's Family Education Counseling Center in Kaysville.
"And we found that this is a really important time for parents and kids to get together rather than come apart, which is kind of what tends to happen."
Smith said a typical response by parents to their teenager's troubles is to emotionally pull away. The opposite needs to happen; they need to build a strong bond to get through those years together.
The Strengthening Families program has been used for several years in the Davis School District, and it's the kids who were asking for it.
"Every two years, we do a youth survey and that gives us an indication of where our students are at risk," said Debi Todd, prevention coordinator at Davis Behavioral Health. "Family conflict is one of them.
"The Strengthening Families is a specific program that targets risks in the junior high level. These skill-building classes have been proven effective at reducing family conflict, improving consistency with the parents' management styles, and establishing relationships and building that family bonding."
The six-week course uses a mixture of role playing, games, videos and even family dinners -- all aimed at addressing the problems that might occur and teaching how communication can help prevent and handle them.
The primary goal seems to be getting both groups to understand the obstacles the other faces.
"We have lessons about how the kids really need to look at it from the parent's perspective and then the parents needs to look at it from the kid's perspective," Todd said.
Rules of the house
One of the common problems involves the "rules of the house."
Instructors will work with the kids to show what the rules are for their family and why they are important.
"The parents will say, 'We have this rule,' and the kids will say, 'Oh, I didn't know we had that rule,'aa" Smith said. "The communication needs to be there, and they need to know what the rules are."
It's about the kids knowing the expectations parents have for them, according to Smith.
And the parents need to understand the pitfalls that young adolescents face on a daily basis -- mainly, the constant bombardment of peer pressure.
"We'll role-play with the kids about how to deal with the peer pressure," Smith said. "That 'Just Say No' thing -- it's not as easy as it sounds."
Parents are taught that they need to be available to listen to their child's problems.
"For the parent, try to not let your emotions get in the way and try to understand what the child is saying," Smith said.
If your son or daughter tells you about their problems, avoid giving advice until you find out how they feel about the situation.
The classes emphasize the importance of families spending time together.
"Understand how important it is to spend quality time, " Todd said. "It's learning how to communicate (with each other)."
The first step is to hold a family meeting once a week.
"Plan out your week. Know what is going on in your child's life. Talk about things that are bothering you, rather than waiting (until) when it becomes a big issue," Smith said.
Conclude the meeting with an activity to have a little fun together. After all, this isn't work.
Dinner time is a vital opportunity for families, Smith said, and she has the research to back that up.
Smith said that families who eat together three to four times a week are much less likely to have trouble. There have been significant results in lowering substance abuse just by sitting at a table together, she said.
"That's part of why we do the meal (every class) so we can model how to sit down and have a meal and talk," Smith said. "A lot of families don't do that at all. Sit down and have a conversation."
Smith said she is always surprised at the end of a course to watch the most hardened adolescent eventually go from shut-down to affectionate listeners.
"Then they are the ones at the end that are so excited to share things with their parents," Smith said.
"Watching the families get closer over the six weeks is kind of neat."
This week offers three opportunities to enter the Strengthening Families Program.
The six-week courses kicks off from 6-8:30 p.m. today at Washington Elementary, 340 W. 650 South, Bountiful; Wednesday at Farmington Junior High, 150 S. 200 West, Farmington; or Thursday at North Layton Junior High, 1100 W. 2000 North, Layton.
The course is free. Groups meet the same day of the week for six weeks.
For registration, contact Kim Smith at 801-402-0548 or e-mail email@example.com.