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Preventing Substance Abuse Requires More Than One Conversation.

Even though we have never experienced communication issues, some of the most difficult-to-begin conversations with our boys were the ones about substance abuse. As parents, the idea of our kids—actually our whole family—dealing with substance abuse was always one of our biggest fears as they got older and became more independent. The fact is, drug abuse–prescriptions and illegal substances–is rampant no matter where you are. Here in Naperville specifically, there’s a huge, scary heroin problem in addition to the “usual” stuff.

Recently I was asked by the folks at Rosecrance, one of the country’s leading teen substance abuse treatment centers, to do some sponsored work in helping them spread the word about a traveling art exhibit that brings awareness about teen peer pressure when it comes to substance use and abuse. This is one of those times when I thought, as a parent of now-grown boys, I could be of some value and, frankly, I was also interested in the conversation. So…I was all in.

Rosecrance led a great Twitter chat last night on the topic, and the participants were parents of kids at varying ages and stages. It was so interesting for me to read tweets by the parents of both young children and kids who are approaching the teen years: the fear was right there. I hope that they got just as much out of the Twitter chat as we hardened veterans did. If you click here in the next few days, you can check out some of the #InMyShoes chat. I encourage you to do it: so much good info there!

I tweeted my very best tip towards the beginning:

It's not one conversation. It's MANY.

I can’t amplify this enough. For real.

That’s a fact. By practicing great communication about everything with your kids starting as early as they learn to talk, the tough conversations you have to eventually lead aren’t quite as difficult as they would be if nobody was used to speaking openly.

Confession: one of my proudest moments as a mom was when one of my kids was in middle school health class and came home to tell me a story about how one of his classmates tried to sidetrack the teacher with questions about sex, repeating the questions to me as part of the story. Some of the topics were things you wouldn’t normally expect a young teen to mention to his mother over an after school snack, but my kid did, and he did so in the most casual, easy-going way. It was the start of a great conversation. That afternoon was a gift to me: it was complete validation that Jim and I were doing communication right in our house. I doubt that my son remembers that day, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

Communicating with your kids means that you’ll get a pretty good handle on their daily “temperature” when it comes to peer pressure. You’ll get an idea of what they go through at school: what they’re seeing, what they’re talking about and hopefully, what they’re being pushed to do, say, or experience by others.

What I know is that although I never wanted to be one of those parents who was always referring my kids elsewhere, having tools on hand to answer questions more thoroughly or to act as conversation starters was always a good idea. That’s why I’m excited about the “In My Shoes” traveling art exhibit, initiated by Rosecrance. It was created by teen patients in their art therapy program at the Rockford (Illinois) campus and is being hosted this week in honor of Drug Facts Week by Hinsdale’s Robert Crown Center, i.e. the awesomely educational place where all western suburban 5th graders get bussed for the puberty education program. (It’s always fun to say “Robert Crown Center” to any kid in this area, just to see their reaction!)

The exhibit consists of more than a dozen unique, hand-painted shoes. “From shoe selection to showcase, the process of creating shoe art is a meaningful experience for these teens in that each shoe is unique and visually tells the teen’s story about addiction, recovery, and the teens’ hopes and dreams for the future,” said Jennifer Thammavong, art therapist at Rosecrance. “The shoes also symbolize the steps that these teens have taken to overcome substance use and move forward with living happy and healthy lives.”

“In My Shoes” will be at the Robert Crown Center (21 Salt Creek Lane, Hinsdale, IL) from now through February 6. If you’re free this Saturday, January 31, head over there between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for the Drug Facts Week Open House!

In the meantime, I’ll be visiting the exhibit tomorrow and will be sharing my experience on Twitter and Instagram, so join me virtually, won’t you?

Now, go talk to your kids!

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