SALT LAKE CITY — Just as some of your favorite games have rules — letting players know what to expect and what is fair — families with rules, rewards and responsibilities tend to turn out happier, healthier and more successful kids.

That's the idea behind a new DVD being mailed to families in the Salt Lake City School District this month.

The disc contains a 10-lesson program that promises to help families strengthen themselves, reduce the risks of addiction and help kids be alcohol- and drug-free until age 21, said Art Brown, president of Utah's Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which is supporting the effort to deliver the program to more people.

"As you begin to work with families, they begin to work together, begin to communicate, to compliment each other, to set rules, to set boundaries, to do things together and their families are strengthened," he said. "When the family is strong, kids are less — much less — at-risk to go participate in alcohol and drugs."

It is the first time that the successful program, which has been available in 17 countries as a paid group course for several years, will be made available to families in their own homes and free of charge. Until now, it has been difficult to reach the masses because of increasing costs and parents' busy schedules, according to Strengthening Families Program creator and University of Utah professor Karol L. Kumpfer.

"Research has proven that parents really are the key to prevention," she said. "Kids who come from homes where they get a loving, supporting environment, with messages of no-use, are much less likely to use. And when parents don't do their jobs, all of society suffers."

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said drug use will "damage their futures and the very viability of our city." He said a recent survey of sixth-graders reveals that 46 percent of them intend to use drugs someday.

Using the Strengthening Families program promises to help children succeed not only in avoiding the "pitfalls of adolescence," which include drugs and alcohol, according to Salt Lake City School District Superintendent McKell Withers, but it will help them succeed in school and life.

"We know that if students have a supportive environment in their home, if they have good communication with their parents, if someone is checking on homework and helping them read, they are less likely to use alcohol and drugs, but they are also more likely to be very successful in a school environment," Withers said.

Becker said participating families have experienced a decrease in family conflict, stress levels, depression and child and adult substance abuse, but also an increase in family unity and organization.

All families in the district will receive the program, along with a parents guide, at no charge, and it will soon be available for free download on the mayor's Coalition on Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs website, www.slcpreventioncoalition.org, and at www.parentsempowered.org.

"The vision here is great, the opportunity is wonderful and the potential is limitless at this point," Withers said.

e-mail: wleonard@desnews.com