Post contributed by Amanda G.
There is a lot of debate out there about the best time to start teaching your kids about drugs and alcohol. Some parents believe it is best not to scare younger kids and that teaching them about stranger danger is enough; that it is better to wait until kids are older, like middle school aged, to start teaching them about drinking, drugs, the dangers of addiction, etc.
Guess what: by the time your kids are heading off to junior high school, most of them have already been exposed, at least peripherally to drinking, drug use, addiction and the whole lot of ideas and behaviors you’d rather they not know about until they hit 40. They learn about these ideas and behaviors from television, movies, music, other kids at school and, most of the time, from their own parents. Even if you aren’t expressly talking about drug use over dinner, they pick up on things by listening to you talk to each other, other adults, etc. There is a lot of truth to that whole “the walls have ears” cliche.
In fact, like teaching your kids about giving, dating, death, etc., teaching your kids about drugs and alcohol abuse is something that you shouldn’t leave up to others.
When to Start the Conversation
The earlier you start the conversation the better. Some parents start the conversation as early as pre-school. In fact, Kids Health says that talking about medicines prescribed by a doctor are a great way to open the conversation about when to take things to feel better and how medicines work. They also recommend using “teachable” moments, like seeing someone on television smoking a cigarette or drinking a beer, to talk about what they are doing and what affect it would have on the body.
As your kids get older, you can start asking them questions about what they think when they see someone taking a drink, smoking a cigarette, etc. It’s a fantastic way to lay down a solid foundation of open and honest communication so that, by the time peer pressure and “real” issues surrounding drugs and alcohol start to crop up, your kids will feel comfortable talking to you about them.
An All or Nothing Approach
One of the biggest mistakes parents make when teaching their kids about drugs and alcohol is to take the approach that all drugs, drinking and smoking are terrible and that the people who do it are terrible losers and that there is a zero-tolerance policy in the house as far as drinking and experimentation are concerned. Period.
The reason this backfires so often is that it encourages kids to see drinking and drug use as a sort of forbidden fruit. And, as your kids grow up and start to rebel against you, they will gravitate toward the things they know will offend you the most. This isn’t just true for drugs, by the way, it is true for lots of other behaviors you’d rather they avoid.
Give Your Kids a Script
When they are very little, saying “no!” loudly and running away is a perfectly fine reaction to being offered an illicit substance. As your kids get older, you will find that simple “No” isn’t a good enough reason for them to not do something even (or especially) when you are the one saying it!
As they grow up, give them better and more socially acceptable things to say when someone offers them a drink, etc. Phrases like “I can’t, my parents will kill me.” and “Nah, that’s just not my thing” carry a lot more weight than simple “No.” When someone is a teenager, “no,” is more of a challenge than an absolute. Setting your kids up with scripts and instructions to follow will help them deflect offers and pressure that they will get from their friends and schoolmates.
When Experimentation Happens
Your kids are going to experiment. That is a given. How you handle it is going to spell the difference between successfully keeping them clean and accidentally pushing them toward abuse or addiction. Of course, even if you are relatively lenient with their experimentation, abuse and addiction can happen. Tucscon Transitional Living, a young adult rehab program recommends that parents learn how to recognize the signs of addiction and abuse so that you can watch for them and identify them when they happen in your house.
Finally, remember that every parent and family will have to deal with the existence of drugs and alcohol eventually and that you will make mistakes along the way. If you keep trying, though, you should recover from those mistakes and help your kids stay clean and sober.
Post contributed by Amanda G.