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Kids do not crave drugs. They are desperate for the feelings produced by them.

Most young people who regularly use alcohol or illegal drugs reportedly do it mostly to change their feelings -- to make them feel good about themselves, to feel accepted or to escape from perceived problems. Unfortunately, they turn to illegal drugs because they have found no other readily available source of good feeling in their lives.

Drug-using young people I have worked with, despite their attempts to appear worldly, soon expose themselves as empty, rudderless children, desperately searching to fill themselves with good feelings and hope. Aren't we all?

Consider, then, that the most powerful, emotional "highs" that our children chase after are actually readily available for free, and right in our own homes. And we adults are perfectly suited and capable to be the biggest dealers of these "drugs."

Imagine. No need to stop at shady street-corners, darkened parking lots or wooded trails to get a fix. Just get your buzz from mom, dad or the local parish priest. Yet, sadly, for too many children, these free "highs" remain out of reach, grounded in the closet of adult ambivalence and oblivion.

So what, exactly, are these elusive elixirs of hope? They are the real drug fixes that our young people desperately need to navigate our complex, changing society:

Praise. This drug helps children get high on self-esteem.

Respect. This drug helps youth feel confident and independent. Backs become straight, eye-contact is inevitable. Headphones come off. Chores even get completed.

Empathy. This drug helps your child to feel understood. It's warm-fuzzies all over again.

Love. This drug helps a kid to thrive and feel valued as a human being who belongs. Never assume that the child is getting enough of this one.

Challenge. This drug helps a young person to feel a sense of purpose and direction and eliminates boredom. This may also cause families to inadvertently engage in healthful activities.

Discipline. This drug helps a child feel a sense of safety and structure. Side effects such as maturity, reliability and responsibility are common long-term outcomes.

Each of these drugs should be administered daily by parents, stepparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers and trusted adults -- pretty much anyone who can be considered a reliable dealer of these potent drugs. Multiple doses are highly recommended.

Drug effectiveness can be measured by good grades in school, healthy family interaction, supportive friends, involvement in clubs, activities or school/community sporting events. Long-term effects include reaching for the stars.

Also, unusual sightings of teens enjoying the company of their parents are not illusions, and should not be reported to police.

Do not use generic brands or imported placebos, since they have been found ineffective when compared with the original. Healthy doses of each drug are highly recommended. In fact, these fertilizers of child development fare better when combined with each other. Mix and match at your leisure.

Signs of an overdose, such as affection, respect, motivation and confidence, should be ignored.

KEVIN FRITZ lives in Darien and is a school social worker and substance abuse counselor.

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