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Health and Wellness: Susan Parmelee
Health and Wellness: Susan Parmelee

By Susan Parmelee

October is Red Ribbon Month, and our schools and city will be commemorating this day through activities that aim to educate, advocate and provide resources to youth and families about the negative outcomes caused by the illegal drug industry. The first Red Ribbon week was held in honor of Enrique Camarena, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent who was tortured and killed in Mexico in 1985. Family, friends and neighbors began wearing red satin ribbons and the first community coalitions formed to fight the harm caused by taking alcohol and illegal drugs.

Sadly, 30 years later we live in a country where accidental drug overdoses appear in the media daily and drug use is glamorized by pop culture and social media. Orange County (OCHCA) data records a higher than national average rate of accidental overdoses making it important that we provide children with real facts and information to counter what they view in the media.

The education and prevention activities during Red Ribbon Week (Oct. 23-31) are very important to the well-being of the youth and adults in our community. Whether your child is two or 22 years old, there are many important messages parents and adults can deliver solely through their own behavior.

Prevention science has come a long way in the past 30 years. “Just Say No” started the conversation about substance use, and now it’s up to us to provide young people with facts about alcohol and other drugs. According to prevention professionals, education about the health effects of cigarettes has been very successful in lowering rates of tobacco use among our youth and is the model for education about alcohol, prescription drug abuse, marijuana and vaping devices.

Experts in the fields of child development and prevention believe that the best tool to combat substance abuse is helping our youth develop skills to prevent risky behaviors while educating them about health effects. By emphasizing the message in our homes and our communities that our youth do not use alcohol and illegal drugs, we help them know they have our support when they are faced with tough choices.

Researchers from the Search Institute ( found that many young people no longer have clear rules and expectations about making healthy decisions as they approach adolescence. It’s normal and healthy for teenagers to take more responsibility for themselves as they mature, but problems occur when young people lack clear expectations. Adolescents are more likely to make healthy choices when parents and the community make very clear the rules and consequences for risky behaviors.

So the question remains: How do we help teens understand our expectations? These messages are both implicit in the behaviors they see from other adults and explicit in the rules at home and in the enforcement of these rules in our community.

To be effective, rules and expectations should include the following qualities:

Clear—children should know what to expect and the ramifications for breaking the rule.

Consistent—parent’s expectations are more likely to be met when adults enforce them on a regular basis.

Creative—children respond better to the rules when the boundaries are clever and creative.

Confident—Parents can empower kids when they set the expectation and say, “I know you can do this.”

Rules and expectations can also evolve as your child matures and becomes ready to take on more independence. The following are helpful age-related guidelines:

6-10 years old: Be firm about safety rules. Be consistent with the consequences for violating rules.

11-15 years old: Negotiate new rules and expectations as your child grows older. Be patient, calm and consistent as young adolescents test the boundaries you set.

16-18 years old: Explain your reasons for the limits you set. Help your teenager think about future goals and the discipline required to reach them.

As your child grows older, be aware of the behaviors they may be observing in relatives and friends’ homes and take time to discuss your observations. A real life learning moment is what a child remembers most and these moments guide their future decision-making. For more tips about age appropriate discussions about illegal substances, please visit

Adults wishing to participate in Red Ribbon Week are invited to attend Ray Lozano’s upcoming presentation. Lozano is a prevention specialist and comedian, who aims to help parents better understand the middle school brain through humor and entertainment. Lozano performs at San Clemente High School in the little theater from 6:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 27.

Susan Parmelee is a mental health social worker and one of the founders of the Wellness & Prevention Center, San Clemente. She can be reached at

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