Talking about drugs can be awkward, especially if there’s a history of substance use disorders in your family. It’s no surprise many parents would rather say nothing and hope that their child figures it out for themselves.
However, for better or worse, drug use is part and parcel of wider American culture. Sooner or later, your child will be exposed to drugs through references in entertainment, the media, or from their peers, usually well before they’re taught about them in school. Unfortunately, as with discussions about sex, these are not ideal avenues through which to understand the real truth behind drug misuse.
If you’re interested in teaching your children the facts of drug use — and you should be — here are some tips for talking to them about drugs in a healthy, helpful manner. If you’re in New England and suspect that your child may have a problem with drugs or alcohol, check out this directory of drug rehabs in Boston.
1.) Prepare as early as you can
Children become aware of drugs fairly early, usually by primary school. As discussed earlier, children are often surrounded by drug references through the web, TV, and other media they consume. Additionally, hit songs on streaming services and radio often contain references to drug use, and often overwhelmingly regarding how enjoyable they are. Needless to say, younger impressionable minds might not be prepared for this kind of exposure.
You’ll want to consider giving children a talk about drug use as early as primary school, as this is when they start having contact with their peers and have more opportunities to consume movies and music by themselves. At this time, you’ll want to brush up on current research and developments, focusing on the kinds of drug problems you might have in your community.
2.) Keep things factual
While you certainly don’t want them trying drugs at an early age, it would be a mistake to try to “scare them straight” with lies or hyperbole. Children can be far more sophisticated than they let on, and they will eventually find out if you’ve been fibbing. When this happens, it can undermine your authority and make it difficult for them to trust you, later on.
By keeping things factual, you can better earn the trust of your child. It may also help them think more critically about drugs and why people use them. If necessary, you may want to share your personal experiences with drugs, if any, along with reasons why you believe they shouldn’t use them. Make sure to discuss societal and mental health issues as well, as these are inextricably linked to problematic drug use.
3.) Don’t wait to catch them in the act
You’ll want to tell to your child about drugs even before you suspect that they might have done them. You’ll want to give them a talk well before their teens or as soon as something relevant to the conversation happens.
4.) Let discussions happen organically
Even though you want to talk with your child as soon as they’re old enough to understand, you don’t want to make things more awkward than they have to be.
The perfect time to talk about it would be if they initiate the conversation themselves or if you both overhear an obvious reference to drugs in the movies or music you both happen to experience. Given how saturated culture is with drug references, it’s only a matter of time before such an opportunity comes up.
5.) Don’t condemn drug use harshly
Substance use disorders are mental health conditions that have complex causes. People may develop them due to serious trauma, financial problems, or even because of a miscalculation made by a physician. Not only does it make little sense, given these circumstances, condemning drug use may make it unlikely that your child will turn to you for help if they experience any problems.
6.) Let your child know you’re open to further discussion
Your child needs to know that they can rely on you to help them understand the world at large, including most of the unsavory aspects. If you’re not prepared to have an honest, thoughtful discussion on substance use with them, they’re likely to satisfy their curiosity elsewhere — or through other means.
7.) Get help from the other parent
Everyone actively involved in raising the child must help guide them in a healthy, constructive way. Even if you don’t necessarily have a good relationship with your child’s other parent, this is one area where you both may want to agree to present a united front.
8.) Consider seeking professional advice
If you or the other parent has problems with drugs and alcohol themselves, you may want to seek advice from a professional counselor. They should be able to help you consider how best to explain drugs use to your child.
We hope these suggestions will help you better discuss drugs and other potentially difficult topics with your child. Children are extremely curious but impressionable as well. Given the prevalence and occasional glorification of drug use within wider American society, how you approach the topic may have implications for the rest of your child’s life.