Many parents start out with the best of intentions about teaching their kids about drugs but freeze up when it comes time to actually start talking. Some worry that learning more about drugs will encourage their children to experiment, while others simply feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin.
Despite your worries as a parent, it’s essential to have candid conversations about drug use with your children.
One of the most common mistakes is to wait too long to talk to kids about drugs.
With the ubiquity of drinking and drug-related content on television and social media, children become exposed to drugs at an early age. By late elementary school, your son or daughter probably knows a bit about alcohol, marijuana, and perhaps even other drugs.
That makes it very important to start the conversations early. Age six or seven isn’t too young to know about drugs and that they can be dangerous for your body. Couch the conversation in simple language that your child will understand:
- “Drinking is okay for adults, but it can stop you from growing if you try it when you’re still a kid.”
- “Drugs are bad for your body. They can actually hurt how your brain grows and make it harder for you to learn.”
As your child gets older, you can begin having more sophisticated conversations about the effects of drugs on the body and mind.
There’s no reason to save your drug related messages for one big talk. Rather than having “the talk” once and considering your job done, keep an open line of communication and talk frequently about drug use.
Smaller children often focus on the negative aspects of drug use (“Will it hurt me?”), while adolescents may begin to be curious about the pleasant effects of drugs. Having recurrent conversations about drug use is the best way to ensure that your kids will come to you with questions.
Many parents worry that their kids will think they’re being hypocritical when they talk about drug or alcohol use. If you experimented with marijuana or other illegal substances, be prepared for your children to ask.
Although opinions vary on how to handle these questions, honesty is often better than your child finding out that you lied. Consider the following response:
“Actually, I did start drinking when I was in high school. It seemed like fun at the time, but now I wish I had waited until I was older.”
Scientists know a lot more now about how bad it is for brain development, and I actually got suspended from the basketball team because I got caught. I wasn’t thinking about those consequences at the time, but I’ve always wondered if I would have gotten a basketball scholarship if I hadn’t been kicked off the team.”
A response like this is honest and straightforward without glorifying drug or alcohol use. Think honestly about your experiences and why you regret them to come up with compelling reasons to discuss with your child.