WORDS: ALISON BERGMANN, M.S., C.P.P. – PROJECT DIRECTOR OF DRUG FREE MANATEE
As parents, we talk to our kids about health and safety a lot. We tell them to buckle up in the car, to look both ways before crossing the street, and to brush their teeth after meals; it seems like it is never ending. But, what if you could drastically reduce the likelihood that your child would participate in dangerous and destructive behaviors just by talking about it?
Talking about health and safety as it pertains to alcohol and other drugs can be difficult, but it is so necessary! You probably have opinions, values, and beliefs about substance use, but it can be hard to know when the right time to bring it up. It might feel like the time is never right; one day they are too young, and the next they are off to college.
Truthfully, it’s never too early to start taking preventative measures regarding substance use and starting the conversation is easier than you might think. For instance, being in a public place where someone is smoking or drinking too much can be a great opportunity to talk to your kiddo about the unhealthy choice that person has made. (Simple, right?)
It doesn’t have to be a serious, drawn-out conversation; dropping age-appropriate truth bombs about your values and beliefs about health and safety can – and should – be a weekly, or even a daily, occurrence. If you start when they are little, by the time they get to middle and high school, they will have a clear understanding of your expectations and the ‘harder’ conversations are much easier.
If you do have a preteen or teenager, it is definitely time to have this conversation. They may have knowledge (whether you know it or not) about specific substances and how their peers are using them- even if they haven’t ever used them themselves – that you do not. Times have changed since you were a teen and so have the drugs.
For example, did you know that wax, shatter, budder, and dab are all names for high potency marijuana? Or that most marijuana cultivated and sold today has a much higher THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) content than in past generations? Did you know that Juul (pronounced jewel) nicotine cartridges look very similar to flash drives? So similar, in fact, that many teachers and parents look at them every day and do not realize that they are looking at a delivery system for one of the most addictive substances on earth! (Plot twist: Juuls can also be manipulated to deliver marijuana with no tell-tale smoke or smell.)
While this information is good for parents to know (you could totally blow your kid’s mind with your knowledge), it is not necessary to start a conversation with your kid. You really only need two things to start: a clear understanding of what your expectations are for your child and an open door to keep the conversation going. You cannot set a clear boundary for your child if you do not know how you expect them to behave. This is a continual conversation, not a one-and-done.
You can talk about it even if you experimented with drugs and alcohol when you were young, even if it makes you feel like a hypocrite. After all, we want our children to do better than us at everything, right? I would encourage you to share any family history of alcoholism or drug addiction with your teen, though. Just like with any illness, like cancer or diabetes, knowing the family’s medical history is a vital part of prevention.
If you want to share some of your experience (i.e., “I tried xyz and I really wish I hadn’t, it could have ended really badly.”), do share. Your teen will most likely appreciate and respect that you’re coming from a place of love. Honesty is sometimes the best policy when it comes to sharing your own experiences, however, if you think your teen will throw it back at you, you don’t have to lie, but there is no need to share the extent of your experience, either.
Also, you will want to brush up on the health risks of specific substances to share with your teen. It’s never enough to just tell them not to drink or do drugs, they must have a why. Studies show that kids do better when they are empowered to make a good choice, not just given a directive.
If you give them information that will enhance their ability to make a healthy choice for themselves, along with knowledge of what your expectations of them are, they will be more likely to turn down an offer of alcohol or other drugs.
So, go out there and get your prevention on, and for more help, visit www.drugfreemanatee.org