I had the privilege of attending and chairing the Dakota Medical Foundation annual meeting this past week. As you might know, DMF is a regional health foundation started along with Dakota Hospital back in the 1960’s.  When the hospital was sold in the late 1990’s, part of the proceeds came to the foundation, which has had a major role in improving the health and wellness of our communities. We got to share information about Lend A Hand Up which is expanding its reach for online and in-person benefits supporting those having medical crises. We learned about a new workplace health initiative called P5 to help our companies have the healthiest workforce in the nation. And of course, we talked a lot about Giving Hearts Day on February 8th! We got to honor several people who are doing amazing work in the field of addiction.

We heard from Dr. Mike and MaryBeth Traynor who lost their son Matt to addiction in 2016. This brave couple recounted Matt’s tragic story. Though he was a straight-A student, a varsity player in multiple sports, and an avid hunter and fisherman, he got caught in the web of addiction. It ultimately cost him his life at the age of 25. Mike and MaryBeth have been able to turn their tragedy into hope for others. They established the Matto Foundation which encourages us to think about teen choices and actions. We can help protect our teens by encouraging them to delay their first drink. Research shows that there is a higher rate addiction to alcohol, marijuana, and opioids for those who are early drinkers.
There are many great resources online, including an NIH study called from First Drink to First Drunk. I found some great information from out of Australia.
Delaying the introduction of alcohol to teens for as long as possible starts at home. Talking to our kids about alcohol and setting boundaries and expectations to keep them safe are daunting tasks, but critically important. Check out these practical suggestions for being a positive influence in your kids lives: The first letter of each point forms the word  DELAY.
  1. Discuss the issues. Kids want to hear about alcohol from their parents. They trust you and rely on you for information and advice. Keep the lines of communication open. Not everyone drinks. They think of it as a social benefit, but encourage them to know that they can fit in without drinking.
  2. Educate by example.Talk to them about responsible alcohol use, and how you set your own rules and boundaries. Parents who drink and have lenient attitudes about drinking and more likely to have teens who exhibit risky behavior due to alcohol. Make it a point to have alcohol-free events so that everyone can have fun without drinking.
  3. Listen and engage. Be aware of your kid’s friends and get to know their parents. Set clear expectation about activities and events. Be clear to other parents about your views on alcohol.
  4. Cultivate a good relationship with your teen with clear and open communication. Parent-child relationships characterized by emotional warmth, support, trust, involvement, and attachment are associated with lower levels of alcohol misuse. Be there through the hormonal changes, school commitments and peer pressure.
  5. Your expectations matter, for your teen and other adult influences. Involve your teen in developing the rules and understanding the importance of them. They may not like the rules you set, but knowing the reason behind them will help.
Because Matt Traynor was a wonderful outdoorsman who particularly loved Muskie fishing, the logo of Matto Foundation features this large fish in bright colors. Mike and MaryBeth gave out hats and shirts emblazoned with the logo.  Each item included a card about delaying that first drink. They suggested gifting these hats and shirts to kids with a message of help and hope and making better choices.
There are many other groups involved in Giving Hearts Day helping fight addiction. We got to hear from First Step Recovery and the legacy of Mike Kaspari. First Lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum spoke about the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Commission and Recovery Reinvented. You can help fight battles in so many ways through your Giving Hearts Day gifts.
With love,
Dr. Sue

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