Children and teenagers want to make their own choices. We all do, really. Being forced into a decision can end in resentment, frustration, rebellion, or regret. I’m sure we can all recognize that when a decision is our own, we feel more committed to it and receive greater satisfaction than if we are made to do it by someone else. The Social Development Strategy (SDS) is a way to create a bond with our children that will result in them making choices- on their own! - that align with the clear standards set within our homes. Just as the SDS has been used in entire communities to reduce the rates of problem behaviors, you can use it to make a difference in your family.
The Social Development Strategy is an evidence-based theoretical framework used by prevention professionals to prevent harmful behaviors among youth such as substance abuse, violence, teen pregnancy, and depression. Simply put, the strategy states that not only should we be providing young adults and children opportunities for responsibility or growth along with the skills needed to be successful but –when properly recognized— those successes can lead to healthy behaviors. This strategy can be used in the wider community, in schools, and even within our families.
As adults, it seems to be second nature for us to praise and encourage a toddler learning to walk. We provide opportunities for them to practice, we provide the skill by modeling how to walk and holding their hands, and when they finally take their first steps, we cheer them on as if they just won the Boston Marathon. Their sense of pride in their accomplishment is evident by the wide grin on their face. Their confidence is increased. The bond they have with their family members is strengthened.
Just like a child learning to walk, we have all experienced a time when we’ve been given a new task or responsibility. We’ve been shown how to accomplish it and given the tools necessary to complete the task. Hopefully after we’ve had a chance to complete it, we’ve been recognized for doing it well. This is the Social Development Strategy in action, and it has practical application within our families. When we provide children with a new task, such as cleaning their room, it is important that we also teach them how to do so successfully (i.e. pick up the toys and put them in the toy box, put the books on the bookshelf, etc.) As they start doing it on their own, we should recognize the great job they are doing, especially by involving other members of the family or friends in the act of recognition. This positive interaction and recognition can create stronger bonds within families.
Going hand in hand with a strong family bond, setting clear standards is an important key to preventing substance abuse and other problem behaviors among youth. Clear standards --such as the expectation to wait until age 21 to drink alcohol-- are most effective when coupled with a strong bond. We can’t have one without the other and expect the same outcome.
Opportunities, skills, and recognition. Implementing these three constructs of the SDS can lead our children to make healthy decisions that will positively impact their life for years to come.
By Jamie Slade, MPH – Prevention Specialist