Talking to your kids about drugs
It has become common to turn on the TV or radio and/or read a newspaper and find stories about teenagers who have overdosed from some type of abused drug. Many of the crimes young people are involved in are related to drug use. Gang violence, driving deaths, date rapes, and a host of other threats to our children often have drug use or abuse components. Some young people are hurt by the disease of addiction while others are harmed by the behaviors of those who abuse drugs. Many parents are left feeling helpless, not knowing what they can do to protect their child from the drug use culture that has infiltrated our children’s schools and social groups. The purpose of this article is to teach parents how to protect their children from the disease of alcohol and drug addiction by inoculating them and giving them regular booster shots in the form of information and connection.
Protecting your child from drugs of abuse
Inoculating your child to help them be safe in a sea of drug culture influences starts in early childhood. Many parents do a good job of this naturally, as they show their child how careful they are with cold medicine and pain relievers. Educating your child about why and when medicines should be used is a good start to teaching them about drug safety.
Another thing that parents can do during childhood is to look for natural teaching moments when your child sees drugs being used on TV or walking around the community. These moments provide an excellent opportunity to talk to kids about what drugs like tobacco and alcohol do to the body. Make sure you keep the conversation at their level and based around the type of drugs they have heard about. Make sure you give them the facts about the potential long-term damage that these drugs may cause. Let them know that you are confident that they will make good choices.
Once your child gets into late childhood and pre-teen years, it is time to start asking them open-ended questions about what they think about drugs. This is the best age to have these discussions, as children are often still very open to talking about these subjects with their parents and giving honest answers at this age. Make sure that you show interest in their answers (thoughts and feelings) and don’t simply lecture them. Let them know that you are open and willing to talk to them about what they have to say. Opening the door in this way and at this age often results in keeping it open as they grow into their teen years.
By the time children are 13, they are likely to know other kids who use alcohol or drugs. Let them know that you are available as a resource for them if they have any questions about friends and drug use. Continue to look for opportunities to have conversations about drug use. For example, use a news story about teens who have been driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol to get your teens opinion on drinking and driving. Once you have their opinion, you may choose to validate their opinion if it aligns with yours, and/or add information with your opinion. Be sure to not turn these conversations into a lecture. Once again, share your confidence in them to make good choices about drinking and driving. You can follow this same pattern with news stories related to teen overdose, parties, arrests, etc.
Of course, the best way to inoculate your child from the dangers of drugs is to create a warm and open family environment where your kids feel free to talk about their feelings without them being judged as being bad. Foster an environment where they are praised for good choices and where you make time for them and encourage them to talk about their concerns. When this type of environment does not exist, children look elsewhere for support and often get pulled away by peer pressure and a desire to be accepted in their peer groups.
Why children and teens use drugs
Children and teens may make the choice to use drugs for many reasons. The most common reasons include curiosity, peer pressure, aligning with a particular social group, and/or as a way of self-medicating for an untreated mental health disorder. Many children and teens struggle with anxiety, depression, loneliness and other feelings that their young minds are not fully capable of dealing with. When they don’t feel like they have a solution or supportive friends and family members, drugs become an easy method of escape. This is especially true for children and teens who have social skills deficits. The allure of a social group that accepts you just because you use and have access to drugs can be intoxicating on its own for a child who is starving for acceptance.
Parents should be on the lookout and act early when they suspect their child has deficits in social skills, emotional regulation, and impulse control. Early intervention during childhood and preteen years can often be a great way to overcome potential problems before they start. Though this article mostly focuses on drugs of abuse, this advice is also helpful for reducing the risk for other challenges, including teen pregnancy, academic failure, and relationship problems.