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Book Review

How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid: The Straight Dope for Parents by Joseph A. Califano, Jr.

by Isabel Burk, MS, CPP, CHES

Joseph A. Califano’s new book, “How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid,” is a comprehensive volume featuring state-of-the-art prevention research complemented by data, anecdotes, and practical strategies.

Mr. Califano is founder and chairman of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, a premier think tank that studies the effects of substance abuse on people and society.  As U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the late-1970s, he launched the nation’s anti-smoking campaign, and has been a passionate supporter of prevention and early intervention efforts.  Mr. Califano is a father of five and grandfather of eight.


Califano’s latest book isn’t a pocket reference: it measures more than 3/4 of an inch thick, with narrow margins, smallish fonts, a seven page Table of Contents, plus 30 glossary pages. The dense but rich 270 page resource could be intimidating to a parent.


This prevention primer would be ideal for professionals or as a college level text, and should be required reading for every credentialing syllabus related to prevention or treatment.


The 14 chapters are organized into three sections: Prevent It, Recognize It, Confront It.  Each section includes conversational narrative, cartoons, and quotes from prevention experts and parents; each chapter closes with bulleted Parent Tips. For busy parents, the Parent Tips would be sufficient to get started.  In case of emergency, skip directly to signs of drug use, starting on page 217.


Chapter 1 sets the agenda, explaining The Nine Facets of Parental Engagement.


“The better you are at listening, the likelier your child is to open up to you and to listen to you,” says Califano, explaining strategies for parents who want rapport and open dialogue with their children.


“Did you do drugs?” is a question parents dread, and Chapter 2 includes specific ideas for preparing an answer.  Gently inquire why the question is being asked, be as truthful as you can, and focus on negative aspects of your experience. Explain that today there is greater knowledge of drug dangers, and lead into a conversation about how drugs can affect a person’s future.


In Chapter 6 and 7, Califano thoroughly lays out when and how children are at risk for drug use, including times of day, emotional states, and family circumstances such as illness or divorce. The book particularly emphasizes the importance of adult supervision for youth, including verifying where they are and who is in charge. He says to call other parents to see if they will be home, and ask if alcohol will be available at the gathering.  The issue is safety, not trust.


Media influences surround us all, including music, Internet, movies, advertising, television, and more.  Chapter 11 calls tobacco and alcohol advertising a money-winning formula: “Get ‘em hooked young and they’ll be hooked for life.”  Using specific examples in songs and movies, parents are warned that youth need to be better equipped to understand and resist negative or harmful ideas that can make alcohol, tobacco or other drugs seem glamorous and inviting.


An entire chapter discusses school environments, mostly in negative terms. In Chapter 12, Califano cites research reporting that eight out of ten high school students say there are drugs in their schools. Then the book quotes students in focus groups who say “the other 20 percent [who say there are no drugs in their schools] must be lying.” (See page 176.)


In this chapter, any school where drugs are used, kept or sold is termed a “drug-infected school,” a rather inflammatory choice of words.  As it is strongly implied that all schools are drug-infected, this may be deliberately provocative, trying to spur parents to become engaged in their local school. But the reality is, schools have earned excellent safety records.


According to the 2008-9 PRIDE drug survey (122,000 students), 9.4 percent of high school youth reported that they bought or sold drugs at school, while 17.1 percent reported they bought or sold drugs when not at school. While 22 percent of youth reported they usually drink alcohol at home, only 3.2 percent reported they usually drink alcohol at school; 7.8 percent usually smoke marijuana at home, while only 2.9 percent usually smoke marijuana at school. Schools should be applauded for their efforts, sometimes in spite of parental resistance.


However, Califano is right on the mark when discussing the impact of so-called zero tolerance drug policies in school. Expelling students for a single infraction such as possession or being under the influence, can easily boomerang into a code of silence, where staff members and students won’t speak up because they are concerned about draconian punishment. Policies that emphasize counseling and treatment command more support and enforcement, because they are perceived as helpful.


Chapter 14 describes signs of drug use. This chapter should be required reading for every parent in America. Along with early signs of substance use, parents can find concrete steps to follow if s/he suspects a problem.


“You are more likely to detect the early signs of use if you are engaged in your child’s life, know your child’s world, and have established a foundation of communication that will allow you to discuss any issues that arise,” notes Califano. Classic, sound advice.


Califano and The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse have put together a timely, invaluable resource that will be read, highlighted, bookmarked, and re-read.

<p><strong>How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid: The Straight Dope for Parents</strong></p> <p>by Joseph A. Califano, Jr.<strong> </strong><em>(Simon &amp; Schuster/Fireside)</em></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For more information on this book and where to buy it, please visit:</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"></a><em><br /></em></p>

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