Talk To Your Tweens & Teens About Drugs
It happened. Kids at Dex’s middle school were allegedly busted for pot. I say “allegedly” because I have only heard it from my kid, but that is not really the point. Our conversations about drugs have gone to the next level nonetheless.
One of my big projects with my former company was a website for college freshmen to prevent binge drinking and give information on the effects of alcohol and drugs, among others. I am no expert myself, but we have had some great chats with Dex, as well as some intensive reading in conjunction with the projects I mentioned.
So, I thought I would pass along how we have handled it and would also love to hear more suggestions from you in the comments. It takes a village, right?
1. Talk to each other before it comes up.
Talk to your partner about how each of you feels, how you want to handle the subject and how you want to approach the message. This talk is really important, because when you get the random question you won’t be a sputtering, awkward deer in headlights.
2. Answer questions at age-appropriate levels.
Just like sex, our kid has asked questions about smoking, alcohol and drugs at different ages. In the early days, we generally gave a quick explanation to satisfy his curiosity but not much more. As he has grown, we’ve given more details.
3. Break up your talks.
You know this. Kids hate lectures. Pounce on opportunities to naturally inject information into their voracious brains.
4. Talk about the differences between drugs.
Part of the reason “Just Say No” failed is because it had an across the board “drugs are bad” mentality. Research the effects of drugs and explain them as needed. When we heard about the pot bust at school, we immediately showed Dex photos of pot so he could identify what he might be offered, and also mentioned that it is sometimes put in brownies, etc. We talked about how there are some hard drugs out there that can have much more serious consequences in terms of the law (remember, marijuana is legal here in Colorado) and much stronger physical side effects.
5. Talk about addiction.
My father was an alcoholic, and we have explained how anyone can get addicted to anything. That there are people who use alcohol as a crutch, and some people use drugs the same way. Along with the discussions about different drugs, mention that some may be very hard to stop once they are started.
6. Talk about immediate effects.
Most teens think things like cancer and death will never happen to them. That is long off into the future, right? However, they *do* worry about physical changes like bad breath, teeth and skin (thus those disgusting meth ads not too long ago).
7. Talk about your own drug use.
It may be hard, but it’s important for them to know, and for you to be honest. Dex knows I have tried pot a few times in college, but I didn’t care for it. Simple as that.
8. Look at commercials and ads.
We have been doing this with Dex forever, but ask your child, “What is this ad selling?” and “What are they trying to convey?” At first the answers are pretty funny, but you will be amazed at how media-savvy your kids will become once they start deconstructing messages. The main point is that many movies, TV shows, ads and commercials glamorize drugs, alcohol and smoking, but rarely show the bad side effects.
9. Role-play ways to decline drugs.
Literally stand up and act it out with your kids. Come up with a bunch of scenarios, and have them suggest some too. Often a non-judgmental “no thanks, it’s not my thing” kind of answer works best because it will not making the “offerer” feel insecure. Also, technology-based escape plans are helpful, like pretending to get a text or setting an alarm to leave a party before things get intense.
10. Keep them busy.
Many friends have talked about sports and clubs not only being enriching for their teens, but gives them “excuses” for not taking drugs. If your kid is serious about soccer, they won’t risk being kicked off the team. But just generally, it gives them a support system and inherent set of friends to hang with.
11. Ask them about their opinions.
It is very important to see what they think. One of the first questions I had about the pot bust was, “what do you think about that?” Dex said he and his friends thought it was crazy. It was a great jumping off point for conversation, we knew what he thought, and he felt included instead of lectured to.
12. Be clear about your expectations.
Tell them while you want to have an open conversation about drugs, you do expect them not to do drugs. Be sure to also tell them that you love them. Believe it or not, kids really do care what we think.
What else? Please add your insights in the comments!
Thanks mucho!! 🙂
this is great. straighforward.
It is so important to be open like this with kids about drugs you are so on target here, Amy.
Dude, this post is so stinking good. I’m going to bookmark this and use it later. Go you.
I love the ideas to use their phones to help them get out of tricky situations. I had never thought of that. Thanks for the post! Good luck on your end!!!
This is far and away the best post of its kind I’ve read. I’m unusually comfortable as a sex positive parent, but drug questions intimidate me, in part because I shrink from hypocrisy and I’ve tried and enjoyed a variety of drugs with no addiction problems. Your suggestions are great- especially to actually educate that all drugs’ effects are not the same.
I’d add that at middle school, discussion about prescription sharing is CRUCIAL. Including the drugs we have. My daughter will need to hear that my narcotic pain meds and antianxietals can be VERY dangerous used off-label.
Thanks so much for this. You’re a great peer parent to have in my blog circles:D
Thank you Heidi! And a very good point about prescription drugs! We are hearing that is a very big problem as well. (And unfortunately I have a bunch of prescriptions at home, including sleeping pills).
What a great post!!
Coming from a former counselor’s standpoint, a great place to have tough conversations is in the car. Your eyes are focused on the road, so any confrontational tendencies (real or perceived) are turned down a notch.
And, just like having your child role-play his/her answers to friends, role-play YOUR answers out loud, either to your partner or a mirror or when you’re alone in the car. When you have confidence in your answer, it shows…just like it does for your kid in those situations.
These conversation and this open line of communication is so important. What a great post, Aimee!!
Great post Aimee. Thank you.
Great suggestions for a topic that is definitely on my radar with a middle schooler. I remember not wanting to smoke cigarettes largely because my brother said it would make my teeth brown. Forget about lung cancer, etc…
As a mother, as early as now I want to have that connection with my kids and they will be open to me in whatever that are bothering them. They are all boys so it is quite hard to get along with their wants but I am trying my best and I guess this is the start of eventually telling them about the risks of drugs and drug addiction.