Making a Pact
Jim Huger, founder of Parents and Children Together (PACT) talks about his proactive reward-based approach to keeping children off drugs.
For every parent, worrying about the children can seem like a full-time job. Particularly when it comes to children who are coming of age and are becoming curious about romantic relationships and recreational substances. For Jim Huger, drug use tearing apart family relationships was something he knew firsthand, and he wanted to be sure it didn’t happen with his family.
“Growing up, I watched friends begin using drugs,” Huger says. “At first it was small time, but as their use grew, their lives became deeply impacted. Drug use seriously affected the family of one of my close friends. He started out ‘experimenting’ with marijuana, after school at a friend’s house. Over the course of years, his experimentation developed into a full-blown heroine addiction. Fortunately, he is now drug free, but it came at a significant emotional and financial cost.”
Huger wanted to come up with a way to make sure his children never even reached the experimenting phase. In other words, a pre-emptive strike.
“As my kids approached middle school, I kept asking myself how was I going to make sure my kids didn’t get tangled up in drugs?” Huger says. “I thought about drug testing. I knew companies regularly tested employees for drug use in an effort to maintain a drug-free environment. But my kids were good kids and I was just trying to keep them that way – I didn’t want them to think I didn’t trust them. In my mind, this testing was preventive. I knew they would face pressures. I also knew that if they could tell their friends that they were being drug tested they would have an excuse to deal with peer pressure.”
Huger approached the administrative staff at his childrens’ school, but it became very clear to him that they wanted no part in what he felt was a preventative measure, so he took matters into his own hands. He wanted to find a way to assure his children that he trusted them, and wanted to find a way to incentivize them to participate in drug testing by choice.
“I wanted to start testing them early before they considered using drugs,” he says. “This way, they would not think I was testing them because I didn’t trust them. When they started middle school, around 13 years of age, they were verbally opposed to drugs. So I asked them how they would feel about a pact in which they would not do drugs, and they would submit to a drug test twice a year. Each time they passed they would get $25. They said, ‘you’re really going to pay us to not do drugs? Duh! Of course we’re not going to do drugs!’ Although they did not want to admit it, they understood what I was trying to do: Give them excuses, give them a crutch with their friends.”
Huger’s concept worked. Both of his daughters have been drug free for more than five years. One is in college and is still on the pact, albeit for more than $25. His other daughter is a senior in high school and also remains drug free to this day.
“Making a pact with them gave me a piece of mind that neither of my daughters were doing drugs,” Huger says. “And it gave them a tool to resist peer pressure. Now I am getting ready to enter a pact with my twin boys who are in middle school.”
Huger started his website and program PACT (Parents and Children Together) to help other parents who have the same concerns he did about their kids using drugs. The program gives parents the guidelines for establishing a pact with their kids – how to talk to them about drugs, and how drug testing can actually help them deal with peer pressure.
“The program helps in ways I could have used with my daughters,” says Huger. “It schedules the drug test so there is no planning on your part. And hair drug tests are mailed to your home so you don’t have to go looking for them. Finally there is a reward given to your kids for passing drug tests. We also have deferred rewards that encourage savings and allow other parents and family members to participate in their pact. I want every parent to join me and help keep our children off drugs when it matters most.”
According to Huger’s research, the brains of developing kids are 65 percent more likely to be vulnerable to addiction than those who steer clear of drugs until the age of 21. So it is imperative to keep them from even trying drugs. However, throughout their teenage years, the influence parents have on their kids and the decisions they make declines, while at the same time the influence of their peers grow. Huger believes that it’s important to intervene early on, because the consequences could be serious and lasting.
Parent subscribers get instant access to the PACT creator tools — their online conversation guide is tailored to the child’s age and gender, so the whole family can get together, log on and get talking. Next, parents and children make the PACT pledge. The child pledges to stay off drugs and agrees to complete two randomized hair drug tests each year. In return, the parent pledges to provide financial rewards for each successful test. Huger says the money is what gets kids excited.
“The PACT’s random testing gives children a real reason to say no to their peers,” Huger says. “Signing up with the PACT is like giving kids a shield to protect themselves from peer pressure. If a child is asked to do drugs, they’ve got a solid excuse: “I can’t. My parents actually test me. But it’s great. I get money in return!”
Each year, the PACT comes with $50 in starter reward money so the kid always sees the incentive for each test. Parents can add to their rewards any time. The PACT also includes tools for kids to increase their reward money, including social sharing, where kids can invite family and friends to grow their reward.
“It’s a great way to build a supportive community around your pledge, while encouraging saving,” says Huger.
Turning his program into a business has been an exciting leap for Huger. He is enjoying growing his program and utilizing local New Orleans talent to build him team.
“Over the years, I have started many businesses and love the idea of getting something started from the ground up,” he says. “The PACT is like any other business I’ve started, you have to hire the right people and find companies that support your mission. It has always been important to me to keep the work local. It is amazing how many talented people are right here in our backyard.”
While his business is just starting up, Huger is excited to share a tool with other parents that worked so well for him. He’s hopeful that parents and children can work together to keep the family safe, communicative and drug free.
“Through the PACT, we have developed a platform for parents and their children to discuss difficult issues,” Huger says. “We could take it to safe driving, good grades, anything where parents want to encourage behavior through incentives that can be validated. Right now, our mission is to give parents an option when it comes to drugs.”
To learn more about PACT, visit their website.