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As families work hard to raise strong resilient children who are successful, productive and substance free they often wonder when to begin talking to children about difficult topics. Things like peer relationships, dating, substance use, honesty etcetera can be challenging to discuss. Many times a parent will think their children are too young to have these conversations. The fact is, however, if you want a teen to avoid risky behaviors and make good choices, the foundation must be built well before the adolescent years.

Joseph Califano Jr., Founder and Chair of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, offers Nine Facets of Parental Engagement for building strong families. The Nine Facets of Parental Engagement include:

1. Be there: Get involved in your children’s lives and activities.

2. Open the lines of communication and keep them wide open.

3. Set a good example: Actions are more persuasive than words.

4. Set rules and expect your children to follow them.

5. Monitor your children’s whereabouts.

6. Maintain family rituals such as eating dinner together.

7. Incorporate religious or spiritual practices into family life.

8. Get Dad engaged-and keep him engaged.

9. Engage the larger family of your children’s friends, teachers, classmates, neighbors, and community.

Califano goes on to say, ”With these nine facets of parental engagement, you will have the tools to create a relationship that will enable you to raise your children to be healthy and substance free, poised to develop their talents to the furthest. The benefits of such a relationship reach well beyond substance-abuse prevention. But without this foundation, your admonitions to say no to drugs and alcohol will be like trees falling in an empty forest: Your children will not hear them, much less be influenced by them.”

Dr. Ross Bower reinforces this message by stating, “Communication doesn’t start when your child is seventeen; it should start when your child is three. So by the time that your child is seventeen, there’s a pattern of communication that has hopefully been going on for some time.”

For further reading on this topic, I suggest “How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid” by Joseph A. Califano Jr.

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Kaye Frataccia is the program manager for Around the Table. This column solely represents the writer’s opinion.