So why are today’s young people resisting the allure of binge-drinking and illicit drugs that ensnared their Boomer parents? Perhaps it is precisely due to Baby Boomers’ libertine drug experiences that their children are inclined to avoid substance abuse. This may not just be out of disgust with their parental cautionary tales. Thanks to their enthusiastic embrace of coddling- and self-esteem-focused helicopter parenting—Boomer parents may actually be better equipped to preemptively (and subsequently) engage their children in the type of interventions that help inoculate their kids against the risks of substance abuse.
Part of that progress is due to our increased knowledge about just what kind of interventions are effective in deterring drug use. Nancy Reagan’s famous “Just Say No” campaign in the 1980s catalyzed concern around adolescent drug use, but interventions that focused purely on abstinence or punishment (like, say, the armed police officer at the front of a D.A.R.E. session) tended to be ineffective. Programs centered on the threat of discipline — you’re going to get arrested, suspended or labeled a criminal in some other way — tend to alienate young people from seeking help from authority figures by perpetuating the stigma surrounding drug addiction, creating a gulf between young people and their parents. A 2014 examination of “just say no” programs by Scientific American found that the most effective substance abuse regimes focused on positive interactions between instructors and students that worked on developing social skills and behavioral norms. Skill development, including communication, goal setting, and negotiation, are the most important tools young people can learn regarding substance abuse, says Dr. Stephanie Zaza, the director of the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH) which oversees the YRBS. “When students are confronted with an environment that has a lot of temptations, they need to be able to ask questions, talk things through, and stand up for themselves,” she says.