What is Red Ribbon Week?
By Bernard Freeman
Set for October 23-31 this year, drugs Red Ribbon Week is an annual event aimed at raising awareness about the destruction that can be wreaked on lives and communities by drug use.
The National Family Partnership organized the first Nationwide Red Ribbon Campaign, and since its beginning in 1985, the “Red Ribbon” has touched the lives of millions of people around the world.
How it started
The movement began in response to the murder of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena in 1985, while he was on assignment in Mexico. Emboldened by the tragic event, parents and children in communities across the country began wearing red ribbons as a symbol of their commitment to raise awareness of the killing and destruction caused by drugs in America.
According to the National Family Partnership, friends and neighbors began wearing red badges of satin in honor of Camarena’s memory and his battle against illegal drugs.
Parents, tired of the destruction of alcohol and other drugs, had begun forming coalitions. Some of these new coalitions took Camarena as their model and embraced his belief that one person can make a difference.
These coalitions also adopted the symbol of Camarena’s memory, the red ribbon.
“The Red Ribbon Campaign is a fun, powerful and effective way to deliver focused, branded, healthy, anti-drug messages to the public,” says NFP President Peggy Sapp. “The winners of the National Red Ribbon Awards honor DEA Agent Kiki Camarena’s legacy by helping to create a drug free America through the promotion, support and growth of the National Red Ribbon Campaign.”
Learn and take the official Red Ribbon Pledge below:
- As parents and citizens, we will talk to our children and the children in our lives about the dangers of drug abuse.
- We will set clear rules for our children about not using drugs.
- We will set a good example for our children by not using illegal drugs or medicine without a prescription.
- We will monitor our children’s behavior and enforce appropriate consequences, so that our rules are respected.
- We will encourage family and friends to follow the same guidelines to keep children safe from substance abuse.
Talk to kids about drugs
The most obvious way to deter drug use among youths is to speak with them openly and honestly about the inherent dangers.
Statistics show children of parents who talk to their teens regularly about drugs are 42 percent less likely to use drugs than those who don’t. But, according to the National Family Partnership, just one-fourth of teens report actually having those conversations.
Underage drug use can cause a variety of problems, such as impaired driving skills due to impaired reaction and judgment time; serious health problems, including liver damage or heart failure from drugs such as ecstasy and lung and kidney damage from inhalants; and psychotic behavior from chronic use of methamphetamine. Teens who use drugs also are more likely to develop drug dependence in the future.
Common risk factors for teen drug abuse include a family history of substance abuse; mental or behavioral health conditions such as depression, anxiety and ADHD; impulsive behavior; a history of traumatic events; low self-esteem; poor social skills; academic failure; and peer or parental influences who encourage drug use.
Recognize gateway drugs
Most drug users don’t start out using hard drugs such as heroin. Instead, they typically begin with a “gateway” drug. For teens, a handful of drugs can lead to a lifetime of drug abuse.
Of course, there is no guarantee a young person using a gateway drug will move on to more dangerous substances such as methamphetamine, cocaine, or heroin. Research suggests that in the majority of cases they will not. But, for hard drug users, the journey often did begin with gateway drugs.
Common gateway drugs
The most common gateway drugs used by teens include tobacco, alcohol and marijuana. The reason? These items are almost always the most easily accessible for teens looking to experiment. These substances also can prove extremely addictive to a child’s underdeveloped central nervous system.
It might not be easy, but there are some key points to follow that can help open a dialog between a parent and teen when it comes to the dangers of drug use.
First, make a point to ask the teen to share their views. It provides a foundation for moving forward and allows the parent to see what the teen may or may not know. It’s best to avoid long, boring lectures. Instead, the Mayo Clinic recommends listening to the teen’s opinions and answering their questions about drug use. Though they may not answer, observe the teen’s nonverbal responses to see how he or she feels about the topic. To keep the discussion open, try to make statements instead of asking questions. For example: “I’m curious about your point of view” might work better than “What do you think?”
Tips to keep teens off drugs
Though parents can’t be everywhere, there are some steps they can take to help keep their children off drugs.
It’s okay to be the ‘bad’ parent
Don’t let a fear of receiving a negative reaction from a child be a deterrent to talking to them about drugs. Take a strong stance on drug use and don’t back down. Though this will obviously set a clear precedent for what is expected, it also can give children a natural excuse to abstain if pressured. If they know there are serious consequences at home, a teen might think twice.
Establish family rules
Set some guidelines in stone for children, so they know specifically what is expected. Some basic examples include: no one under 21 years old can drink alcohol; teens are not allowed to ride with anyone who has been drinking; no parties without parental supervision; and no attending parties where alcohol or drugs are present.
Know your child’s friends
Make an effort to connect with the friends children are spending time with. Make your home a safe gathering place for your child and their friends. Invite your children’s friends over for dinner, and encourage your child to invite friends over. If they are spending time in a place with supervision and rules, there are fewer opportunities for alcohol or drug use.
Get to know other parents
Though getting to know the kids who are influencing your child is obviously important, it’s also critical to know more about their parents and potential home life. Making connections with the families of your child’s friends can open the door for a joint effort to encourage the entire social circle to avoid alcohol and drug use.
If there do not seem to be many options for your child, and their friends, help create some. Backyard sports, hikes, exercise and outdoor activities are a safe and healthy way for teens to spend time. Also encourage teens to engage in school and community activities such as music, sports, arts or a part-time job.
Tips provided by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
There are several physical signs that might indicate a teen is using drugs or alcohol. They include changes in sleep patterns, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, skin abrasions, unexplained injuries and dramatic weight loss or gain.
Less obvious signs
Less obvious signs might include secretive actions or lying to hide where they have been, loss of interest in other activities (such as sports, hobbies and friends), emotional instability, depression, aggression and a sudden lack of respect or interest in school or work assignments.
Other signs include avoiding eye contact, a sudden change in peer groups, unusual smells, or even increased use of over-the-counter treatments to help with bad breath, red eyes or nasal irritation.
Children or teens who start using drugs might show a sudden lack of interest in their physical appearance, manifested by an unkempt look, flushed cheeks, poor hygiene, track marks on arms or legs (which can lead some to wear long sleeve shirts out of season in an effort to conceal them), and burn or soot marks on fingers and lips.
Of course, when looking for these signs, be prepared for what you will do next if any are present. Here’s what the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids recommends:
“If you’ve noticed any of the changes related to substance abuse, don’t be afraid to come right out and ask your teen direct questions like ‘Have you been offered drugs?’ If yes, ‘What did you do?’ or ‘Have you been drinking or using drugs?’ While no parent wants to hear a ‘yes’ response to these questions, be prepared for it. Decide, in advance how you’ll respond to a ‘yes’. Make sure you reassure your child that you’re looking out for him or her, and that you only want the best for his or her future.”
Warning signs provided by D.A.R.E., Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.