The bottom line is to help children grow up safer and healthier and to increase parents’ ability; to help them do that, says the investigator leading a $1.4 million; state-funded alcohol and substance abuse prevention program. Investigators at the Medical College of Georgia and Georgia Cancer Center; but are working with Augusta area schools to prevent or reduce use of two major substances abused by children; alcohol as well as e-cigarettes, whose use by teens is reaching epidemic proportions, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

“We are focusing on alcohol and electronic cigarette use, but more broadly we are working to prevent children; from taking up any type of substance abuse, and to help parents; better understand the importance of behaviors they are modeling at home,” says Dr. Martha S. Tingen. It’s a definite battle, with 1 in 5 middle and high school students using some sort of tobacco; product and e-cigarettes now at the top of their list.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us the efforts to prevent youth taking up smoking; have been erased with the onset of e-cigarettes,” says Tingen, Charles W. Linder Chair in Pediatrics at MCG; and associate director for cancer prevention, control and population health at the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University.

E-cigarettes are harmful

Children do not think e-cigarettes are harmful, she says; but the increased vulnerability of the developing adolescent brain to nicotine addiction has groups like the Food and Drug Administration and Office; of the U.S. Surgeon General concerned.

So the investigators are taking substance abuse prevention to children and parents simultaneously. Their effort starts by working with professionals at schools like Augusta’s Murphey Middle School; to identify children and families who might benefit most; surveying the children and families about how these issues affect their lives; then offering simultaneous but separate, tailored classes for children and their parents, says the prevention researcher.

They ask children questions like when was the first time they remember drinking alcohol; whether they thought it was OK for children their age to drink, and what risks they associate with marijuana use. The questionnaires are anonymous and children; only answer questions they feel comfortable answering, Tingen notes

Investigators take what they learn from the students to also develop a targeted; positive social norms campaign for their school, which generates slogans like; “91% of Murphey Middle School Students DO NOT VAPE,” rather than focusing on the inverse fact that 9% of the children; at this inner city middle school do use e-cigarettes.

Community specific messages

To further instill a sense of ownership and pride, the children have major input into what the posters; which hang in their school hallways, look like. Billboards carrying similar community specific messages like “Most Youth Say No to Alcohol. Stay in the majority,” also are strategically placed around town. Fifteen families at a time go through the 10-week program, and afterward investigators will ask parents about the changes they see in their children.

But it all starts with each family having dinner together, says Tingen, repeating a National Institute on Drug Abuse statistic; that families that have just one meal together a day with phones down; televisions off and instead direct conversation with each other prevents up to 80% of any type of drug use. A host of other benefits also are associated with this dwindling family tradition including better school grades, nutrition and family relations.