Kids taking drugs is a big problem.
Today's children are exposed to many substances that were around when you were young -- marijuana, among them -- and others that were not recognized as a means of getting high, including household products like aerosols and over-the-counter and prescription drugs tucked in the medicine cabinet or a drawer.
You can play a huge role in steering them away from the lure of drugs. Talking with your children is one of the most powerful ways of ensuring they remain drug-free. It should not just be a formal, sit-down conversation; in fact, discussing the dangers of taking drugs should be part of an ongoing dialogue if you want the message to stick.
Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Drugs
It's never too early or too late to begin talking with your children about drugs. Here are 11 tips to help you get started:
1. Sneak it in whenever you can. Try talking to your kids about drugs before school, on the way to rehearsal or practice, or after dinner.
2. Start conversation flowing by bringing up a recent drug- or alcohol-related incident in your community or family. Or if you and your child see a group of kids drinking or smoking, use the moment to talk about the negative effects of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.
3. Provide age-appropriate information. Here's a suggestion from Talking With Kids About Tough Issues, a national campaign by Children Now and the Kaiser Family Foundation: When your 6- or 7-year-old is brushing his teeth, say: "There are lots of things we do to keep our bodies healthy, like brushing our teeth. But there are also things we shouldn't do because they hurt our bodies, like smoking or taking medicines when we are not sick." Or, if you're watching TV with your 8-year-old and marijuana is mentioned on a program or ad, you can say something like, "Do you know what marijuana is? It's a bad drug that can hurt your body."
4. Establish a clear, no-nonsense family position on drugs. Talking With Kids About Tough Issues suggests the following: "We don't allow any drug use, and children in this family are not allowed to drink alcohol. The only time you can take any drugs is when the doctor or Mom or Dad gives you medicine when you're sick. We made this rule because we love you very much and we know that drugs can hurt your body and make you very sick. Some may even kill you. Do you have any questions?"
5. Repeat the message. Answer your children's questions about drugs as often as they ask them. Initiate conversations about drugs with your children whenever you can.
6. Listen to your kids. If you listen when they speak, your children will feel more comfortable talking with you and are more likely to stay drug-free.
7. Set a good example. Children often follow their parents' examples. If you pop open a beer after a tough day at the office, they're likely to emulate you. Try to offer guests nonalcoholic drinks in addition to wine and liquor. Don't take pills, even aspirin, indiscriminately.
8. Encourage choice. Allow children the freedom to make their own choices when appropriate. As they become more skilled at doing so, you'll feel more secure in their ability to make the right decision about drugs.
9. Provide children with weapons against peer pressure. Peer pressure plays a big role in the decision your child will make about taking drugs or drinking alcohol. Talk with them about what a good friend is and isn't. Role-play ways in which your child can refuse to go along with his friends. Praise him if he comes up with good responses. Offer some suggestions if he does not.
10. Build self-esteem. Kids who feel good about themselves are much less likely than other kids to turn to illegal substances to get high. To help build self-esteem, assign your children jobs they can accomplish, praise them for accomplishments, and spend quality time with them. And say "I love you" as much as you can.
11. If you suspect a problem, seek help. If your child becomes withdrawn, loses weight, starts doing poorly in school, turns extremely moody, has glassy eyes, shows more than the usual adolescent difficulty getting out of bed in the morning -- or if the drugs in your medicine cabinet seem to be disappearing -- talk with your child immediately.