Happy Father’s Day — a day to celebrate dads and all they do for their family. As a father, grandfather or mentor we are in a position to be a powerful influence in our children’s lives. As they mature from childhood to their teenage years, they will need us to help teach them about life and guide them in making good decisions that lead to a healthy, happy life.

Every parent/child relationship is different. As for me and my kids, when they were younger I always tried to make time to talk with them. No subject was off limits, but you have to realize when your kids are open to talk and when you can influence them. This awareness comes from spending time with them. We have a significant impact on the decisions our kids make, and one area we know matters is in the conversation about drugs.

Did you know, studies show that in Arizona, kids begin experimenting with drugs as early as age 13? That means we need to start those conversations early and have them often. According to DrugFreeAz.org, children who learn about the risk of drugs from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs. But only one-third of the kids surveyed learned about the risk of drugs from their parents.

So what can we dads do?

  • Educate ourselves on what kinds of drugs have an impact on our kids.
  • Communicate about the risks of trying any drug, including alcohol.
  • Safeguard your medicine cabinets and ask family and friends to do the same. In Tucson, as well as many other cities, we are currently in the middle of a prescription drug epidemic.

When my kids were younger, our conversations focused on setting boundaries and clearly defining what they could and could not do. As they grew older, the conversations shifted to helping them understand the reasons for those boundaries and the effect their decisions would have on others. My wife and I tried to focus them on conducting themselves in a way that would not negatively impact others. This translates across all actions, to include substance abuse.

I think that the best way to influence positive choices in our children’s upbringing is by being an active part of their lives. You cannot depend on others to raise your children (i.e. school, church, media, friends, etc.). While all those entities will definitely have an effect on your kids, a parent is the most important influence in a child’s life. Being around and being engaged will provide you with numerous opportunities to influence your child.

Parents should remember that you are always “on duty” in that regard and your status as a role model will absolutely effect your children. I know the impact I can have on my kids and I know you can do the same for yours.

So to all the dads, or those playing that role for someone, I salute you today and every day for the important part you are playing in our kids’ lives.

Roberto Villaseñor is chief of the Tucson Police Department and first vice president of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police. For more information, go to DrugFreeAz.orgcq