By Meryl Feiner

Drug Free Years for Queens Teens


Parenting a teenager is no easy task. Peer pressure, the struggle for independence and raging hormones can wreak havoc on even the strongest families. Problems are compounded when drugs and alcohol enter the picture. Parents often feel angry and frustrated, and with nowhere to turn for support. The Central Queens Partnership, under the leadership of the Queens Child Guidance Center (QCGC), recognizes this need, and offers a program that addresses some of the concerns of parents of adolescents. The program, “Preparing for the Drug Free Years”, is part of a national Youth Substance Abuse initiative, and focuses on the risk factors that lead teens to substance abuse. In 2000, New York State received a $9 million grant from the federal Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. Funds from the grant are administered through the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, which has awarded QCGC $180,000 annually for the past three consecutive years. “In order to receive this funding, Queens Child Guidance Center had to demonstrate its capacity to mobilize other organizations and the community around substance abuse prevention, and use its expertise to carry out community-based approaches,” explains Tricha Queely, a youth prevention specialist at QCGC. In Community Board 8, where the program is based, the Central Queens Partnership has identified three predominant risk factors for substance abuse in adolescence. These factors include lack of community organization to make a stand; parents’ condoning of antisocial behavior; and early and persistent use of substances. “We set out to find a program that would deal with at least two of these risk factors,” Queely says. After deciding on “Preparing for the Drug Free Years”, the partnership chose to aim the program at parents. “There are already a lot of programs in the schools, and children are being saturated with information,” Queely says. “We know if you touch parents, you are going to affect the community.” But getting parents involved is not always easy and the group learned some lessons early on. “We started out very rigid in terms of approach, with meetings every Tuesday from 6-8pm, but we weren’t getting the numbers we wanted. We then decided to meet parents where they are, and we got a much better response,” Queely says. The group uses traditional and non-traditional ways to target parents in order to reach different academic and socio-economic backgrounds. One of the less traditional venues involves recruiting parents of children who attend local university-based summer and after-school programs. “Preparing for the Drug Free Years” consists of five workshops, and parents are encouraged to attend all of them. “Overall, we want to tell parents that they have the power to make change in their children,” Queely says, adding that many parents feel they can’t do this because of their own substance problems. “We tell these parents they do have a right, and the fact they are attending these meetings shows they want to make a change.” Queely says they also tell parents there is no “magic pill for how to speak to your child on any given topic. We want them to understand that the PDFY program will not tell them how to be a parent, but will give them skills that they can use to aid in the parenting process.” At the first session, ground rules are established and data on the community is shared. The data is very specific and comes directly from their children. According to Queely, in zip codes 11364, 11366 and 11367, the rate of drug dependency deaths increased from 5.37 in 1996 to 7.51 in 1999, per 100,000 in population. Queely says these figures help parents see the magnitude of the problem in their neighborhoods. The second session focuses on healthy beliefs and clear standards. Parents complete a questionnaire about their feelings on different subjects. “This helps parents realize that every household has different standards,” Queely says. For example, one family may allow an 11-year-old to drink wine on a special occasion or at church, while another family may prohibit wine under any circumstance. At session three, parents are invited to bring their children. This workshop focuses on refusal skills and communication. Participants use role-playing exercises to help parents understand their child’s perspective. “This is one of our favorite sessions,” Queely says, adding that the participants really seem to enjoy the role reversal. “It is important that parents acknowledge that children experience bad days, too.” In the fourth workshop, called “Anger Management”, the program gives parents calming strategies to use when they feel ready to explode. These ask parents to stop and think about what they want to happen, and ask questions about the outcome before reacting in anger. It may be something as simple a bubble bath for mom, or a half-hour alone with a good book, but most importantly, these methods provide a reward in the end. By the last session, the members of the group usually have gotten to know each other pretty well, Queely reports, and this is a time where they get to pat each other on the back. Each person says something positive about each member of the group. “The person who is receiving the comments can respond in one of three ways: ‘Thank you’, ‘Thank you, I liked hearing that’ or ‘Thank you. Can you repeat that?’” Queely explains. “We encourage parents to go home and do the same thing with their kids. It builds self-esteem and helps improve self-image.” To date, more than 100 parents have participated in the program. Several groups continue to meet on their own without the help of the facilitator. Queely says this is one way to address the risk factor of community organization. Participants can bring other people into their groups to create a domino effect. The program will continue during the summer months. The workshops do not have a set day and time, and the facilitators are flexible to accommodate parents’ schedules. “Preparing for the Drug Free Years” is open to anyone living in Community Board 8, which includes Fresh Meadows, Cunningham Heights, Hilltop Village, Pomonak Houses, Jamaica Estates, Holliswood, Flushing South, Utopia, Kew Gardens Hills, and Briarwood. For more information on upcoming sessions, or to arrange to have “Preparing for the Drug Free Years” taught at your organization, contact the Queens Child Guidance Center at (718) 591-6750, ext. 13.