Just as you inoculate your kids against illnesses like measles and mumps, you can help “immunize” them against drug use by giving them the facts before they’re in a risky situation. Drug abuse among teens continues to be a significant problem. Teens, even middle schoolers, are abusing both illegal drugs (like marijuana and synthetic marijuana) and legal drugs (like Adderall, Vicodin, and alcohol). In addition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths involving heroin overdoses are increasing dramatically among teens and young adults. Also, young people are using a drink called “sizzurp” to get high. Doctors are warning that the drink with the funny sounding name, which is made by combining soda, candy, and prescription cough syrup with codeine in it, can be deadly.
When kids don’t feel comfortable talking to parents, they’re likely to seek answers elsewhere, and their sources may very likely be unreliable. Kids who aren’t properly informed are at greater risk of engaging in unsafe behaviors and experimenting with drugs. Parents who are educated about the effects of drug use and learn the facts can help correct any misconceptions children may have.
Make talking about drugs a part of your general health and safety conversations with your child. Parents are role models for their children so your views on alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs can strongly influence the views of your child.
Preschool to age 7: You’ve probably already laid the groundwork for a discussion with your young children. For instance, whenever you give a fever medication or an antibiotic to your child, you have the opportunity to discuss the benefits and the appropriate and responsible use of those drugs. This is also a time when your child is likely to be very attentive to your behavior and guidance.
Start taking advantage of “teachable moments” now. For example, if you see a character on a billboard or on TV with a cigarette, talk about smoking, nicotine addiction, and what smoking does to a person’s body. This can lead into a discussion about other drugs and how they can potentially cause harm.
Keep the tone of these discussions calm and use terms that your child can understand. Be specific about the effects of the drugs: how they make a person feel, the risk of overdose, and the other long-term damage they can cause.
Ages 8 to 12: As your kids grow older, you can begin conversations with them by asking them what they think about drugs. By asking the questions in a nonjudgmental, open-ended way, you’re more likely to get an honest response.
Kids this age usually are still willing to talk openly to their parents about touchy subjects. Establishing a dialogue now helps keep the door open as kids get older and are less inclined to share their thoughts and feelings with you.
Even if your question doesn’t immediately result in a discussion, you’ll get your kids thinking about the issue. If you show your kids that you’re willing to discuss the topic and hear what they have to say, they might be more willing to come to you for help in the future.
News, such as steroid use in professional sports and other drug related stories, can be springboards for casual conversations about current events. Use these discussions to give your kids information about the risks of drugs.
Ages 13 to 17: Kids this age are likely to know other kids who use alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs and to have friends who drive. Many are still willing to express their thoughts or concerns with parents about it.
Use these conversations not only to understand your child’s thoughts and feelings, but also to talk about the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Talk about the legal issues — jail time and fines — and the possibility that they or someone else might be killed or seriously injured.
Consider establishing a written or verbal contract on the rules about going out or using the car. You can promise to pick your kids up at any time (even 2:00 AM!) no questions asked if they call you when the person responsible for driving has been drinking or using drugs.
The contract also can detail other situations: For example, if you find out that someone drank or used drugs in your car while your son or daughter was behind the wheel, you may want to suspend driving privileges for awhile. By discussing all of this with your kids from the start, you eliminate surprises and make your expectations clear.
No parent, child, or family is immune to the effects of drugs. Some of the “best” kids from the “best” families can and do end up in trouble, even when they have made an effort to avoid it and even when they have been given the proper guidance from their parents.
It’s important to lay the groundwork. Know your child’s friends — and their parents. Be involved in your children’s lives. Pay attention to how your kids are feeling and let them know that you’re available and willing to listen in a nonjudgmental way. Recognize when your kids are going through difficult times so that you can provide the support they need or seek additional care if it’s needed.
Role-playing can help your child develop strategies to turn down drugs if they are offered. Act out possible scenarios they may encounter. Helping them construct phrases and responses to say no prepares them to know how to respond before they are even in that situation.
A warm, open family environment — where kids are encouraged to talk about their feelings, where their achievements are praised, and where their self-esteem is bolstered — encourages kids to come forward with their questions and concerns. When censored in their own homes, kids go elsewhere to find support and answers to their most important questions.
Make talking and having conversations with your children a regular part of your day. Finding time to do things you enjoy together as a family helps everyone stay connected and maintain open communication. Family meals are a great time to have discussions about many things with your children.
On Saturday, April 26, some law enforcement officials and the Whitfield and Murray Family Connections are sponsoring a local Drug Take Back Day in conjunction with the DEA’s National Drug Take Back Day. Sites will be available in both counties for people to come and dispose of old and unused prescription drugs in a safe and environmentally friendly way between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. This event was held the last two years and both years several hundred pounds of drugs were turned in. Drug Take Back helps get rid of drugs in our community that our young people might get their hands on and abuse. More information about the day will be forthcoming. Please be watching.
If you are looking for more resources for you or your child, be sure to talk to your doctor. In addition, two good websites are www.drugabuse.gov and www.drugfree.org.