As a parent, teacher, or guardian, you care about your the health and safety of the children in your care. An important part of this is educating them to make intelligent choices, so they can care for themselves well throughout their lives.
Almost all youth will encounter some opportunity to “experiment” with alcohol and drugs, and you want them to make the right decision, and avoid substance abuse and the risks of addiction. Talking about these issues may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips that can you help you help your kids make good decisions about drugs and alcohol.
Hopefully, your preschooler will not have any direct contact with drugs. However, the lessons you instill at this age, when kids are their most receptive to your input, will have a profound impact as they age. When drug use comes up in the media and the world around them, talk about how that behavior can hurt people and be dangerous.
Keep in mind what the child can handle and what seems age appropriate, but recognize that repeated messages will have the most impact. Don’t think of a single conversation where you try to focus on all these issues at once, for one time only. An issue this important should be returned to again and again, as growing children and teens face new challenges, from preschool to adulthood.
Training in good skills:
Media, peers, and adults all send a wide variety of “messages” to kids about what drugs are and what they can do, and misconceptions abound in our culture. Separating fact from untruth can be a difficult task, especially when incorrect messages are coupled with peer pressure or a veneer of “cool.”
For this reason, it is important to build children’s problem solving skills. Simply giving information will be less helpful than further working out an action plan and thinking about real ways to avoid drug or alcohol use. Role play or talking through possible scenarios can help your child think through how he or she might be comfortable saying no.
Model good behavior:
Your behavior will speak even louder than what you say. Your children are paying attention to what you do all the time, and will be influenced by what they see in ways they may not even be aware of. If you take care of yourself and make healthy choices, your children will see that and imitate you. Any drug, alcohol, or tobacco use by you will be noticed, and will diminish any message you say about avoiding their use.
If you have experience with substance abuse in your past, you may be especially concerned about making sure children do not repeat your mistakes. Yet you also have some trepidation about looking like a hypocrite, or exposing your weaknesses to your child.
However, the truth is that telling your story as openly as you feel is appropriate can be a powerful way to get the message across. Don’t shield your child from the hard times you endured because of your addiction. Your experiences can be the start of an honest conversation that may have a profound impact.
One-sided “lecturing” to your child or teen may not make that big of a difference. A simple messages against drug use is one almost all teens have heard before, and may be tuned out or ignored. According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 89.6 percent of teens reported their parents would “strongly disapprove” if they tried marijuana, but that did not stop all of them from experimenting. Have a two-way conversation, and carefully listen to what your teen is thinking.
Try to reflect a gentle attitude, that clearly communicates your rules and boundaries, but also makes your child feel valued and listened to. Do everything you can to have a real exchange. Trying to scare him or her or focus on vague future issues is less effective than talking about health, and how substance abuse is risky in the here and now.