Parents, Don't Avoid Talking About Drugs to Your Kids

Parents, Don't Avoid Talking About Drugs to Your Kids

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Like a majority of parents, I too, felt awkward about talking to my children regarding drugs. So I solved the problem by avoiding the subject. Perhaps, I was afraid that if they did use drugs, I would be setting them up to lie to me. Or was it the fear that if they used them, I didn't want to know about it? Whatever my problem, I could never bring myself to look directly into their eyes and ask them point blank if they ever had or were experimenting with drugs.

Luckily, my children turned out just fine and my family never had to bear the suffering and destruction that drug and alcohol abuse can cause a family. So I feel presumptuous when I tell parents to overcome their shyness, inhibition or whatever hang-ups they have and talk to their children frankly about such matters. At this point, I can only give the proverbial advice, "Don't do what I did!"

Some parents say that they are reluctant to talk to talk to their children about drugs because they don't want to be confronted with the issue of their own drug abuse as a teenager. Parents are understandably uncomfortable regarding the possibility of their children asking the dreaded question, "Dad, how old were you when you starting experimenting with drugs?" They fear that they would have to then tell the truth how young they really were and that they would appear ingenuous or children would loose all respect for them. Some parents fear that telling children the truth about their own past use might give their children "license" to use drugs.

Such fears may be valid if that single conversation is the beginning and end of the entire communication with children. But, if parents plan on talking to their children repeatedly and frankly about drugs in the spirit of a continued dialogue, it would have a positive impact on children.

I had my own rationalization regarding why I didn't really need to talk to my children about drugs. Here is an interesting one (go ahead and laugh!): Being the good psychologist that I am and the personal and professional experience I have in the field of substance abuse, I would instantly recognize the signs of abuse if my kids ever started using drugs.

Looking back that rationalization sounds more ridiculous than ever. In essence what I was telling myself was that there is no point of taking any fire prevention measures because I am a professional fire fighter and the moment I see my house on fire I would put it out!

According to one U.S. News poll of 700 teenagers and their parents, there is a substantial lack of communication between parents and teens. Only about 35 % of teens say that their parents often talk to them about drugs. However, 40% of teens report that their parents rarely or never talk to them about drugs. A variety of reasons and rationalizations prevent parents from talking to their kids about such matters.

Some parents would give their child one warning about the consequences of drugs and feel satisfied that they had done their duty. Giving a warning about the bad things that can happen does not amount to talking. Talking involves an exchange of such ideas and information as, your child's thoughts and feelings about drugs, the nature of peer pressure on him or her and how he or she copes with those pressures.

Research shows that parental communication is the single most important thing that can be done to prevent children from using drugs. According to a survey of 10, 000 parents and teens conducted by the "Partnership for a Drug-Free America," teens who received anti-drug messages at home were 42 % less likely to abuse drugs. That indeed is a powerful deterrent.

However, two questions must be clarified before we can fully and effectively utilize the power of parental communication:
1. When should parents start talking to their kids about drugs?
2. What should be the nature or content of these anti-drug messages?

Research shows that parents shouldn't wait until children reach the teen years to talk about drugs. It is then simply too late to modify the appeal of a drug, selection of peers or the vulnerability to peer pressures. Parents are well advised to start talking about drugs as children enter school. Most alcohol and drug treatment programs have reached a consensus that early intervention is the best prevention. Younger children are more receptive to adults' cautions and negative messages about drugs or other risks.

Regarding anti-drug messages, it is best to encourage a discussion between you and your child rather than relating the straight "dos" and "don'ts." During that discussion, if you identify a problem, it should develop into a problem-solving exchange of ideas. Also, as a child is ready to graduate from elementary school, it is advised that parents discuss specific consequences related to the use or discovery of personal possession of a contraband substance.

For children to stay drug free, these three things are critical:
1. Home environment that is loving, peaceful and harmonious.
2. Relationship between both parents and children and parents that is consistently loving and warm.
3. Communication among the family members that is open, honest and regular.

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Copyright 2001, Mind Publications 


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