Audio Journal

Episode 11 - Parent Playbook – How to Be Data Driven

Know the facts to help you make good decisions

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This Audio Journal series focuses on what it takes to coach your family through the Opioid Crisis with the right game plan, a parent playbook, an understanding of your opponent and help from your “assistants” when it’s called for.  This episode will focus on the value of analyzing the data to understand the facts so you can make the right play calls.

Nick Saban at Alabama implemented a GPS tracking system to monitor his player’s activity in practice so he could better predict if his team’s practice strategy wore his players out or kept them ready to go, particularly in post-season play.  He relied on data as much as his experience and instincts to create the right practice plan.

Unfortunately, technology was not there when my daughter Laura started going off the rails in high school, using drugs, and engaging in very risky behavior. So, what type of systems, data, and facts do you need to have at your disposal to make better decisions on behalf of your child to protect them?

Answer the question that is most critical. Is my child using drugs?  I’ve talked to quite a few parents who think their kids are in trouble, caught them drinking or smoking pot, and suspect they are doing more. But they’ve never drug tested them to confirm what they suspect.  A drug test may show that they did indeed smoke pot or a breathalyzer can confirm how much alcohol they have been drinking.  So, if that data comes back confirming what you suspect don’t hesitate to ground your kid, let them know that more testing is likely, take their car keys away and make sure they get and understand why this is a big deal.

However, your decisions as a parent might be entirely different if the test reveals that they are doing something more dangerous like testing positive for cocaine, meth, opioids or heroin.  You may need to go above and beyond grounding them and taking their car.  The bottom line is that you need to know the facts to make intelligent decisions.

Drug testing kits are inexpensive, easy to find at any local drug store or online, and easy to use.  Just follow some simple guidelines.  Make them random.  Research the potential countermeasures your kid may use to fool the test.  And most importantly, never apologize for using a test that could save their life and give you the data you need.

Monitor how your child is connecting with others electronically.  Cell phones and laptops are now common tools that most middle and high schoolers use obsessively.  When they are used appropriately, they allow parents to stay in touch with your kids and allow kids to learn more about the world around them.  But those same tools can also be a way for kids to get into trouble.  My daughter used her phone to coordinate sneaking out in the middle of the night to smoke pot on the golf course, connect with high-school seniors who were selling her vodka she used during school and later with her drug dealers.

So, let’s get the facts when it comes to understanding if your kids’ electronics are an asset or a liability.  Cell phone have parental controls so you can disable them at night.  You can install software to monitor texting.   The same applies to tablets and laptops.  Don’t hesitate to use software to monitor keystrokes so you can know what your kids search for, who they message, and what they are posting on social media.  And don’t forget to disable or take away the laptop before you go to bed because it’s also an engine to message their friends.

Verify that your kid is where they say they are.  When my daughter Laura was in high school, she let me drop her off at school only to leave through the back door.  She had me take her to sports practice only to leave with a friend.  She told me that she was at dad’s house and told her dad she was with me. You get the picture.  As she got older, we installed a GPS tracking system on her car to follow where she was and to know what parts of town, known for drug dealers, she was in. 

Today’s kids have smart phones and they are never very far away from them.  That gives you the opportunity to use technology to locate the phone thus locating the kid.  Our company InterAct LifeLIne is going above and beyond and in 2020 will offer SafetyNet, a technology program for parents that combines wearables and mobile technology to keep your kid located, remind them to show up for their commitments and verify that they are there by asking for check ins.  Before SafetyNet comes online, use the find my phone feature to keep track of where your kids say they are.

Know the facts about your child’s school performance. When my son and daughter came home from school, I might have asked, “How did your day go?” or “How did you do on that test?”  The standard response that every parent hears is “good”, “fine”.  One of the key indicators that your child is engaged in substance misuse is a dramatic and unexpected drop in grades.  So how do you get the data you need to know the facts and not wait for the report card to come out.

First, ask if your school has a parent portal.  If so, grades and assignments are posted regularly and not just at the end of the semester.  Ask your childrens’ teachers for their email address or look on the school’s website to find their contact information.  Reach out to teachers periodically to not only understand your children’s grades, but if they are missing homework assignments or underperforming unexpectedly.  And if the data tells you there’s a problem, request a live meeting with the teachers and school counselors to see what they know.

Monitor your kids’ connections and posts on social media.  Back to my daughter Laura.  Facebook and Instagram weren’t around when she was in high school, but the minute she got her Facebook account, the first thing I did was to look at who she friended.  There were the usual suspects that had been her friends and soccer teammates in middle school, but then there were quite a few others that were clearly part of the drug culture, which was easy to spot from their posts and pictures. 

Insist that you are one of their connections on social media, then monitor their timeline frequently.  If you have technology to monitor the keystrokes on their smart phones, tablets or laptops it’s a lot easier to keep tabs on what they post and who they connect with. 

Takeaways

If you are walking on the field in the fight against substance misuse and addiction and have none of the data you need to make strategy or game-time decisions, then be prepared to have a much more difficult time winning.  You need to know where your kid really is, who they are with, and what they are up to.  You need to have the data to know if your child is using and if so, what drugs are in their system.  You need to get the facts about how they perform in school to see if there is a drop off.   And look closely at their connections and posting history on social media.

My daughter started her journey into drug use and addiction over 17 years ago when technology wasn’t as sophisticated to give me the facts I needed, so I was playing the game with the wrong information, flying blind and often making the wrong calls.  Laura lost her battle 2 years ago when she overdosed and died.  I often think that if I had the command of the facts, the outcome might have been different and the loss we took might have been avoided.

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