Virtual parenting seminars prevent youth substance abuse | #parenting


For John and Michelle Makris, 2020 was the worst year of their lives — and it had nothing to do with the pandemic. 

No, some 13 months ago — just as the country was going into COVID lockdown — the Boca Raton couple suffered every parent’s worst nightmare: the overdose death of their 23-year-old son Brice, a graduate of both Spanish River High School and Florida State University.

Brice had been the ideal All-American son: great student, athlete, former camper and camp counselor, and, as Michelle recalled “everyone’s best friend.” 

As Brice was completing his bachelor’s degree in biology, he began to experience depression — so he reached out to his parents for help. 

But as open as Brice was trying to be with his parents, he was also hiding from them a devastating secret. 

“We were so focused on his mental health and getting the help we thought he needed for his depression that we never realized he was in a life-or-death struggle with opioids,” said John. 

“I tell people all the time now to look for the signs,” said Michelle. “As parents, we always blame ourselves when something happens to our children. I have learned that Brice was dealing with a terrible disease. I just wish I had known more about it and had been able to see its signs.” 

Eventually, Brice did reveal his substance abuse struggle to his parents — and they all agreed he should go into a local treatment program. 

By all accounts, Brice was taking his sobriety seriously. 

In fact, he wanted to make helping other addicts beat their disease part of his own recovery journey. 

“Before he died, Brice told us his goal was to save 100 men and women from this insidious disease,” recalled John. 

Brice was living in a sober home when he relapsed. 

“Sadly, it just took one time of using drugs laced with Fentanyl for us to lose him,” said John. 

To honor their son, John explained that he and Michelle’s “goal is to complete Brice’s mission.”

The Makrises knew the ideal partner in their mission would be the Hanley Foundation — a local non-profit organization that combats substance use disorders and for which John is a board member. So last month the Hanley Foundation kicked off a unique four-part series of virtual parenting seminars entitled “Some Days We Thrive; Others We Survive.” 

According to Hanley Foundation CEO Jan Cairnes, the program was created specifically for parents, guardians, caregivers, grandparents, foster parents, educators and others tasked with the well-being of children, teens and young adults. 

Among the topics that the sessions will address: 

  • How to help preschool to high-school students navigate anxiety and stress.
  • Tips and guidelines for raising healthy kids who are free from substance use.
  • Drug culture trends in South Florida and how parents can spot the signs.
  • The importance of challenging the ways kids see drugs and alcohol portrayed in the media. 

Thursday’s session

The next virtual parenting session is Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and features author Jessica Lahey, a recovering alcoholic whose recently published book “The Addiction Inoculation” offers parents and educators evidence-based strategies and practical tools to help prevent substance-abuse issues in youngsters. 

A married mother of two sons and a sober-living advocate, Lahey has written and spoken extensively on how best to raise children who will be less at risk for addiction.

One of the keys, she recently wrote in The New York Times, is to help your children build a strong sense of self-efficacy — which is “one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed; to regulate one’s thoughts, emotions and life; and to cope with challenges in a positive way. Self-efficacy is what gives kids a sense of control, agency and hope, even when the world around them feels out of control.”

When people lack self-efficacy, they’re more likely to be “pessimistic, inflexible, quick to give up, have low self-esteem, exhibit learned helplessness, get depressed, and feel fatalistic and hopeless…[and] are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to alleviate these negative feelings.”

Among her tips for raising self-efficacious kids are 1) start with yourself by modeling positive, optimistic behavior; 2) make failures specific, but generalize success; 3) be specific in your praise — but don’t go overboard with it.  

Wednesday, May 19, 7:30 p.m. 

The penultimate session in the series features Texas-based police officer Jermaine Galloway — aka the “Tall Cop” (he stands 6 feet, 9 inches tall). Galloway, a former Division-1 collegiate basketball player who spent 18 years as a police officer in Idaho, now spends his time educating professionals and communities on drug and alcohol prevention and enforcement. To date, he has trained more than 650,000 people worldwide.

His primary mantra: “You can’t stop what you don’t know.” 

He will speak to the world’s ever-evolving drug culture trends and will teach you how the everyday items that you might not have given a second thought to play vital roles in enabling drug users to engage their habits while essentially hidden in plain sight. 

Thursday, June 24, 7:30 p.m. 

The final session features a presentation by Dr. Peter DeBenedittis. Based in New Mexico, where he ran for governor in 2018, he is the developer of the popular evidence-based prevention curriculum, the Alcohol Literacy Challenge (ALC).  

ALC attempts to reduce underage and binge-drinking by systematically challenging the beliefs people traditionally hold about the effects of alcohol. In his seminars, he stresses the importance of media literacy and how big a role advertising plays in selling the feelings, beliefs and experiences associated with their products — rather than selling anything specific about the products themselves. 

“During a one-time ALC lesson, students learn about standard drinks, the range of alcohol expectancies, the difference between pharmacological effects and placebo effects, and efforts by alcohol companies to portray positive alcohol expectancies in advertisements,” said DeBenedittis. “Some of the most desired effects — the arousing, positive, and pro-social effects — are placebo effects rather than pharmacological ones. ALC aims to correct erroneous beliefs about the effects of alcohol, decreasing positive and increasing negative expectancies. These shifts in expectancies have been shown to predict lower levels of alcohol use.” 

Whether you attend one, two or all three of the remaining sessions, Hanley Foundation CEO Jen Cairnes summed up the mission of all involved rather simply: “In the end, our goal is really to save lives.” 

To learn more about Hanley Foundation’s virtual parenting series or for more information about preventing substance abuse, visit hanleyfoundation.org or call 561-268-2351. 



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