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Health & Parenting

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Talking to Teens About Drugs

WebMD Feature

April 17, 2000 (New York) -- Many parents say they don't discuss drugs with their children because they don't know how. Almost 60% of parents in a 1999 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) said they needed help communicating effectively about drugs. Here are some suggestions:

  • Start the dialogue when the children are young. Researchers found that a critical transition occurs when students move from the relative safety of grammar school to middle school. The number of students experimenting with marijuana jumps from 8% to 22% at this time. "You have to do it very early if you really want to make a difference," says Joy Dryfoos, author of Safe Passage: Making It Through Adolescence in a Risky Society. "You can't suddenly start trying to communicate with your child when he is 16 and think that the message is going to get across. You have to start in elementary school."
  • Make your message clear and unambiguous. "Parents need to make it clear to children at a very early age that they have zero tolerance for drug use," says Jeanette Friedman, a social worker at Phoenix House in New York City, the nation's largest nonprofit drug prevention program.
  • Keep talking. As children change, encountering new influences and challenges, it's important to keep up to date, and to remain open to ongoing discussions.

Rochelle Jones is a writer based in Bethesda, Md. She has covered health and medicine for the New York Daily News and the St. Petersburg Times.

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