How to talk to your kids about drugs (so that they actually listen)

According to  a recent Canadian Study, one in four students between grades 7-12 were offered drugs in the past year, and 1 in 6 of them had been offered, sold, or given drugs in school. The average age that drug use begins is 15.7 years old.

While this is distressing to parents, it is also an opportunity. You are a role model for your kids, and your views on alcohol, tobacco, and drugs can strongly influence how they think about them. It is critical that we help our children navigate this challenging time and arm them with information and support.

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Many people find talking about drugs with their kids uncomfortable, and either take a black and white stance (i.e. all drugs are bad, “Just Say No”), or skirt the topic altogether. Concerns about planting ideas in a child’s head, being seen as a hypocrite (i.e. because you smoke/drink), or the anxiety caused by discussing something you’d prefer to not think about, are some reasons why parents avoid the conversation.

Let me reassure you. Having a discussion with your kid about drugs will not make them a drug user. And using drugs yourself is not a reason to avoid discussing them. In fact, your child will probably appreciate or feel more comfortable if you share your experience, what made you use, and the consequences/challenges you have experienced related to your use/dependence.

Here’s the key: It’s less important what you say and more important how you say it.

You and your kids can find lots of specific drug information online. The goal is for your child to feel comfortable talking to you about their experiences, questions, and concerns around drugs. To see you as a reliable and trusted resource. Because when kids don’t feel comfortable talking to parents, they seek answers elsewhere. And kids who are not properly informed are at greater risk.

Ways to help your child feel comfortable:

  • Encourage honesty, be curious and nonjudgmental. Consider why your child/ their friends might be tempted to use drugs (thrill-seeking, boredom, peer pressure), and explore alternate, safer ways to achieve those goals.
  • Discuss the risks honestly, based on evidence,  not exaggeration (if you tell your kids drugs will fry their brains, but they see their friends using drugs and still functioning well, they won’t trust you as a reliable resource).
  • If your child asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, be honest. You can get back to them, or research the answer together.
  • Finally, remember that this is not a one-time lecture, but rather an ongoing conversation. Our children change every year, and the risks and pressures of last year may be completely different the following one. Let your child know that the door is always open to talk more.

Having open hearted, two-way conversations will help your kid see you as a resource they can turn to. We may not always like what we hear, but we have a better chance of keeping our children safe if we are included in the conversation.

 

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