Making Sure Kids Get the Message
Communication Is Key
March 26, 2001 -- Lois Thomson-Bowersock taught her two sons
plenty about drug and alcohol abuse. After all, as a recovering alcoholic, she
knew what she was talking about.
"By the time either one of my kids was 12, I'm sure they
could give a presentation on alcohol and drugs," says Thomson-Bowersock,
who lives outside Houston.
She gave them the facts. She taught them about peer pressure.
She assured her children that they could talk to her about anything. Still,
when her younger son was 14, Thomson-Bowersock discovered he had an
"There was nothing that compared to being a parent of a kid
who was in trouble with drugs," says Thomson-Bowersock, who became an
alcohol and drug counselor after helping her son recover. "It was just so
With more than 40% of high school seniors using illicit drugs
in the last year, and one in three sophomores doing the same, drug use
continues at a steady pace among adolescents, the CDC reports. Youths say that
parental influence and participation in sports are two of the most important
factors in their decision to reject drugs, according to a nationwide antidrug
campaign. But is telling your kids you love them and shuttling them off to
soccer practice enough?
Not quite, says Alyse Booth, spokesperson for the National
Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. Parents
and children need to have an ongoing discussion about the issue. "Just
talking to your kids once or twice really isn't the answer," Booth tells
WebMD. "It's important to have a consistent message, and to keep up the
Parents often underestimate the presence of drugs in their
children's lives, and may never bring it up. About 36% of teens say their
parents have never talked to them about drugs, according to a recent CASA
"Kids are surrounded by drugs, and it's important that
parents acknowledge that they are aware of this," Booth says. "Parents
influence their kids about whether they use or don't use more than everyone
But what if you used drugs in your past? Are you being
hypocritical in demanding that your children abstain from the same behavior?
No, says Judith S. Gordon, PhD, associate research scientist at the Oregon
Research Institute. But be honest.
"A lot of parents who smoke, for example, are afraid to
discuss the issue with their kids," says Gordon, who is researching
adolescent tobacco use. "You need to get up there and say, 'I smoke. I wish
I didn't. These are the problems I'm having. I'm addicted and can't stop. I
really wish you never have to go through what I went through.'"
Outlining a family policy on drug and alcohol use, detailing
for children what is forbidden and what the consequences of breaking the
contract will be, is a good place to start. Gordon recommends setting up a
reward system to encourage your children from avoiding such behaviors. "The
idea of early on discussing your goals, your expectations, your hopes for your
child and involving your child in a dialogue with you is important across the
board," she says.