Question: Recently I have seen a number of TV commercials urging parents to speak to their children about drugs. My daughter is 12 years old. How do I start the conversation?
Answer: Parents often feel uncomfortable about discussing the “hot topics” namely drugs/alcohol and sex with their children. Waiting for the so-called right time often means starting the discussion when the issue arises as a problem. Unfortunately, this is often too late. Therefore, it is important to establish a comfort zone within the family for discussing a wide variety of topics. I recommend holding family meetings on a regular basis to resolve family issues, set rules and plan for the future. When these occur, bringing up the tougher stuff fits in naturally as just another subject for conversation. In other words, the process of dialogue is already established making all issues easier to talk about. Specifically, in your situation, after several meetings have been held and all members of the family are more at ease with the process, you can open the discussion about drugs. I would start with a hypothetical question that is relevant to your child’s life. For example, I might ask, “What would you do if one of your friends offered you a drag on a marijuana cigarette when you were hanging out at his house?” In addition to practicing specific coping strategies in advance of a potential situation, the door is open to talking about drugs in general. A note of caution,
A note of caution, prepare yourself for the discussion by acquiring accurate information. Children, especially adolescents, turn you off if what you are saying is either exaggerated or not consistent with what they have learned both at school and on the street. Therefore, do your homework by researching available databases and publications for information that can be passed on to your child as factual. In addition, make sure the adults in the family are clear about what message they want to send about experimenting with drugs. The child will sense any ambiguity you might be feeling. If you experimented with drugs while you were in high school or college, be ready with an answer when you child asks you if you ever tried drugs. There is no right answer for this. Some parents try to deflect by saying that the question is not relevant to their children’s decisions. Although probably accurate, children usually here this answer as a tacit admission that their parent used drugs. The other approach is to say that just because you as their parent might have made mistakes when you were younger, the children can learn from those mistakes. To reinforce this argument, a parent can point to factual information that proves that the marijuana smoked 25 years ago was much weaker that what is out there today. Furthermore, reputable studies are demonstrating that drug and alcohol abuse among adolescents can affect brain development in the prefrontal cortex a later maturing area of the brain that helps control impulses, regulate moods and helps us to organize our lives.
Questions can be sent to Dr. H. the parent coach at Dr.H@rhsolutionsinc.com
Dr. Richard Horowitz, Parenting/Family Coach