Drugs are omnipresent in our culture. Parents cry about their children’s bad decision on Intervention and just about every other reality show. And a child who’s using drugs is most parents’ worst case scenario. It’s the reason parents snoop, want to get to know children’s friends, and stay up late at night worrying about their teenagers. Despite all this worry, though, many parents neglect to take one of the most important steps in preventing teen drug use: talking to their children.
Just like talking about sex, the “drug talk” should not be a one time thing that occurs at a predetermined age. Instead this should be a talk that takes place many times over the course of the life of your child, and you should start young, providing increasingly specific and age-appropriate information as your child gets older. You have to judge the age, maturity level, and needs of your own child, but the below tips may help you start the conversation and raise a child who does not want to use drugs.
Have Reasonable Rules
This may sound completely unrelated to drug use, and in many ways, it is. However, a child whose parents take every rule very seriously, who are very controlling, judgmental, or who have unreasonably high expectations, is unlikely to believe that drug use rules are any different from any other rules. Work hard to be reasonable and discuss rules with your children carefully, and you will have completed the first step in encouraging your child to listen to you when you talk to him about drugs.
Before entering into any conversation about drug use, it’s important to have your facts straight. Find out what drugs are popular among teens, what their side effects are, etc. It’s important to be able to explain specifically why you don’t want your children to use drugs. Simply saying that drugs are bad or illegal will likely only convince younger children. Teenagers constantly question received wisdom, so make sure you have answers for their questions.
Listen to Your Child
It’s scary but true: your child has likely heard a lot about drug use already, and if she’s a teenager, it’s possible that her friends are already experimenting with drugs. A good way to start any conversation is to find out how much your child knows and what her opinions are on the issue.
Don’t make the discussion into a confrontation. Kids tend to run in terror when their parents proclaim, “we need to talk”, so making a big deal of the discussion and then proclaiming, “Are you using drugs? You better not be!” is not a good starting point. Instead make conversations about drugs part of normal, every day conversation. If you see something on the news about drug use, this can be an excellent segue way into the drug conversation. Ask your child how she feels about drugs, if she thinks drugs should be illegal, etc. Gather as much information on your child’s opinions as you can; this will better equip you to respond to her and give her the information she needs.
Don’t Teach her to Just Say No
In an ideal world, a kid could just say no to drugs and the conversation would move on. But drugs can often be a ticket to dating, to acceptance by one’s peers, so it’s important your child have the skills to resist peer pressure and do more than simply say no. If your child fully understands the health and legal effects of drug usage, she will be unlikely to decide that risking her life is worth making a new friend.
Practice role playing different ways to say no with her. This is one situation in which it’s ok to lie. If your child is worried about acceptance from her peers, she can say, “No, I tried that once before and I didn’t like it” or, “I’d like to but my parents drug test me/would kill me.” Give your child permission to use you as the bad guy in this one instance and she’s less likely to feel like she’s being judged by her peers.
Be A Good Example
Remember that alcohol, though legal for adults, is a drug just like many other drugs. A child who sees a parent overuse alcohol as a way to unwind or have fun will begin to think of mind-altering substances as a path to adulthood. Don’t model this kind of behavior and your child will be less likely to want to make drugs a part of her life.
Teach Good Decision Making
A child who has lots of experience making his own decisions and making them well will be well-prepared to make a good decision regarding drugs. Give your child choices whenever and wherever possible, and encourage independent thought. It may mean your child questions your rules from time to time but a child who questions authority is a child who is also likely to question the authority of her peer group.
Don’t Punish Honesty
As your child gets older, she may tell you that her friends have experimented with or offered her drugs. Do not punish her for her friends’ decisions or ban her from seeing certain friends or she is unlikely to share with you again. If she shares with you that she has considered trying drugs, talk respectfully about why she might have wanted to use drugs, and provide meaningful counters to her reasons. Explain that kids can be popular, social, and fun without using drugs and encourage her to be a leader among her peers, who shows them they can have fun without using drugs.