Making it the most wonderful time of the year -- to connect

Every year around this time, parents hear about all of the "must-have" gifts of the season. Marketers spend billions of dollars trying to convince our children that their toy, video game, or product will change kids' lives for the better. Having this new gadget will give them the excitement, satisfaction, and popularity they've always wanted. Kids, in turn, launch a marketing campaign of their own - begging their parents for presents.

I have no problem with the idea of giving our children holiday gifts. I love seeing the look of surprise and wonder when my kids open their presents under the tree on Christmas morning. At the same time, I always remind myself that the most valuable gift I can give my three children is pouring into them my time and attention. Part of that includes listening to what excites and engages them, and encouraging them to pursue their natural high.

During the holiday season, let's give our children the gift of trying new activities, like ice skating or hiking. Or, let's get out there and join our children doing what they've already identified as their natural high. Don't worry, I'm not suggesting that parents who have a fear of heights strap on a parachute and jump from a plane. But go with your kids and listen to the excitement in their voices as they describe the rush of freefalling - or volunteering at a soup kitchen, or singing karaoke, or playing indoor soccer.

Why is it so critical to help young people identify their natural high? Because the alternative can be that they seek unhealthy activities, like drugs and alcohol. A recent study by Columbia University states that teen substance abuse is the #1 health crisis in America. One in three families in the United States is affected by drug or alcohol abuse. We are all just one or two degrees away from someone who has been impacted by addiction.

My family was one of the three that suffered tragedy from drug and alcohol abuse. I will never forget the heartbreak of losing my two brothers who had so much talent and vitality, but succumbed to the temptation of drug use and lost their lives. Our holiday season, and indeed our lives, will never be the same.

I started the nonprofit Natural High because I don't want other families to go through the anguish ours experienced 25 years ago. We aim to provide healthy alternatives to drug and alcohol use for young people. We want to help prevent young people from feeling the hopelessness my brothers must have had in the events leading to their deaths. Additionally, we want to help young people replace feelings of hopelessness with excitement about life - now and in the future.

Natural High has reached 8 million youth through schools, celebrity videos, and social media with one very simple message: Find what you love and get your natural high by doing it. We provide curriculum in the schools showcasing professional athletes, musicians, and performers who tell kids that living drug free is an important part of realizing their dreams. When they volunteer their time and talent to our cause, it is an invaluable gift to our communities and to our future.

One of our most important partnerships is the one we have with parents. Natural High understands that families are an important influence in the lives of young people. We know that when parents spend time with their children, and listen and encourage their hopes and dreams, it makes a tremendous positive impact.

Let's enjoy the holiday season for all it offers. But let's also remember that the greatest gift we give our children cannot be bought at a store or wrapped with a bow. It is the values we impart on our children through the time we spend with them that matters most.

If what we do at Natural High sounds like something you'd like to support, I hope you will consider a tax-deductible year-end gift. The generosity of people like you helps us continue the life-affirming work we do every day of the year.

Jon Sundt is the Founder and President of Natural High.