AT WHAT AGE SHOULD I DISCUSS DRUG USE WITH MY CHILD?
Start with preschoolersÖ
Children at this age are not drug users, but if we talk to them now, before the
problem exists, we can have an impact when they are 10, 11 and 12. The
foundation for all healthy habits, from eating nutritious foods to using proper
hygiene to dressing appropriately for the weather, begins in the preschool
While drug use by for children
this age may not be a concern, even young children hear about drugs. Unless
adults take the time to help children sort through the messages they receive,
what they think they understand about drugs may be far from reality. Moreover,
because children who resist early drug experimentation are generally adept at
problem-solving and self-help, parents need to ensure that the foundations for
these skills are laid down during the preschool years.
Preschoolers regard the adults in
their life as all-powerful. Perhaps at no other time in their lives is your
approval as highly prized or your teachings as well received as during these
early years of unconditional devotion. Remember that both as you talk with your
children and as you consider what behaviors you model about the use of tobacco,
alcohol and other drugs.
- Ask children what they
think about a TV program or story-line. Discuss how TV/storybook
characters are like and unlike people they know.
- Discuss how violence and
bad decisions can hurt people.
- Realize that when you
use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, you are sending a message
endorsing your children's use of these substances.
- Give children honest
praise for their attempts to take responsibility for their own good
The typical school aged child is eager to be independent and grown-up. School
opens up a new world to children beyond the closeness of family. As children
grow older, friends take on heady proportions, and children seemingly live or
die based on their friendsí opinions. Acceptance can be everything. The advent
of reading and writing skills will also make your child a global learner.
Because peers and reading skills expand your childís world, messages about
tobacco, alcohol and other drugs may be conflicting with the oneís you give your
As you talk with school-aged
children about drug use, remember that children have a hard time focusing on
future consequences Ė the here and now is what is important to them. They do,
however, understand the reason for rules and appreciate having limits in place.
This applies to rules about bed times and homework and to no-use rules about
tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.
- Without putting your
childís friends down, underscore your values and the importance of
making decisions that are consistent with these values.
- Talk with the parents of
your childís friends to determine if they are giving their children
messages that are consistent with yours.
- Let your child know what
is allowable at home and school and what isnít.
Between the ages of 10 and 15, children typically move from having good feelings
about themselves and their life at home and school to at least some feelings of
insecurity, doubt and pressure.
With the many dramatic changes taking place within them, young adolescents
look to one another for support. "The group" defines what they should wear, what
music they should listen to and what activities should occupy their time. It can
be very threatening for parents to see the peer groupís values assuming such
importance in their childís lives. Still, children do not relinquish their
powers of thought. They approach problems systematically, try to see things from
different perspective, have a marked sense of right and wrong and are ready
champions of justice.
When looking at drug and alcohol
use, parents must recognize that young adolescents are easily swayed by what
their peer group feels is appropriate. Self-doubt can also make youth vulnerable
to the "quick fixes" of tobacco, drugs and alcohol. However, with expanding
social consequences, young people may view the refusal to use tobacco, alcohol
and other drugs as a civic responsibility. Young adolescents are also concerned
about their appearance. If they believe drug and alcohol use will impair their
looks and health, they are unlikely to be tempted by these practices.
- Donít abandon your child
to the peer group, even though you may feel this is what they want.
- Base drug and alcohol
messages on facts, not fears.
- Emphasize how drug use
affects the things that are important to young adolescents such as
sports, driving, health and appearance.
REMEMBER TO LISTEN
a climate in which your child feels comfortable. Your non-verbal cues will
send messages to your child, so consider the position of your chair, the
tone of your voice, eye contact and facial expressions.
Although it is essential that the educator provides the child with accurate
facts about drug abuse and its side effects, prevention education also
centers on listening. Listening carefully and really hearing involve the
Listen to the words being communicated,
but also be aware of the non-verbal communication that accompanies
these words. Non-verbal cues indicating feelings of fear, anger, or guilt
are important for teachers to understand if they are to be truly helpful to
Listen by paying attention.
Looking directly at a student who is speaking is very confirming. It allows
the student to believe what he or she is saying is being listened to, is
important, and is being understood. Teachers need to be aware of their own
non-verbal behaviors when they listen, such as frowns when they disapprove
of something and smiles when they approve.
Listen without interrupting.
Interrupting a person who is trying to understand or be understood or trying
to express feelings about something very important, frightening or
guilt-laden may result in a shut-down at the very moment when an unclear or
undeveloped thought is about to be clarified.
Listen without judging. For
students to learn through open communication, you must permit them to speak
and listen when they are speaking. The very thoughts that might be responded
to quickly in a negative, judgmental way may be of great concern to the
Listen without giving advice.
Giving advice is often an easy way of dealing with a complex problem.
Students attempting to cope with the many issues associated with drug use
must examine each issue and may not respond to quick and seemingly easy
solutions. Communication takes time; giving advice often short-circuits the
- Give your child
an opportunity to talk. Stop talking and give your child sufficient time
to complete his or her thoughts and process what has been said.
interest by asking appropriate questions. Questions can help you clarify
your childís thoughts and suggestions. Be sure that you are interpreting
what has been said correctly.
- Listen to the
complete message. Listen to the total message before forming a response.
- Encourage your
child to talk. Use door-opening statements ("You seem distracted todayÖ"
or "Tell me what is going onÖ") that invite a response.
- Focus on
content, not delivery. Avoid being distracted by your childís poor
grammar or manners. It is what is being said that is important.
- Listen for main
ideas. Try to pick out the conversationís central theme.
- Deal effectively
with emotionally-charged language. Be aware of words or phrases that
produce anxiety and trigger emotions.
- Identify areas
of common experience and agreement. Note similar experiences of your own
or offer a shared point of view to communicate acceptance and understanding.
- Deal effectively
with whatever blocks you from listening. Be aware of personal blocks
that may prevent you from hearing what your child is saying.
SOME EXAMPLES OF PARENT-CHILD DIALOGUES
first response may be to blurt outÖ
better response would beÖ
|Timmy has started smoking but his parents
||Iím going to call Timmyís mother. She has to
be told and thatís all there is to it.
||How do you feel about Timmy starting to
smoke and his parents not knowing?
|Pot canít be all that bad for you because
Iíve seen kids who use it and theyíre fine.
||Itíll be bad for them if they get caught and
end up in trouble with the law.
||Iíd like to share with you some of the
information I read about the effects of smoking marijuana
|You lived through the 70ís. Why donít you
let me live through my decade without your interference.
||I donít want you to make the same mistakes I
||Sharing my experiences and listening to
yours are among the most important things I can do for you
as a parent.
|Nobody else has parents this strict. Youíre
still living in the Dark Ages.
||One day youíll be down on your knees
||How would you like me to be? What do you
think would be most helpful to you?
|How can you tell me not to smoke when you
inhale two packs a day? Isnít that awfully hypocritical?
||Donít you dare talk to your father like
||I know Iím not providing you with a good
example. Iíd very much like to quit.
TALKING WITH YOUR CHILD ABOUT MARIJUANA
Is Marijuana Really a
Teen marijuana use has surged since the start of the Nineties. Between 1992
and 1995, the number of 12- to 17-year-olds using marijuana doubled. And the
younger the age group, the greater the percentage of increase.
Each year, the University of Michiganís Institute for Social Research queries
50,000 high school students about their drug habits. In 1995, 28.7% of tenth
graders reported trying marijuana at least once. In 1991, just four years
earlier, that same survey found that only 16.5% had experimented with marijuana.
For eighth graders, the percentage of students trying marijuana went from 6.2%
in 1991 to 15.8% in 1995.
Teens themselves put the number of adolescent marijuana users much higher.
Typically, they estimate that three out of four high school students have tried
marijuana and that at least one teen in four is a regular user. While these
estimates have little statistical value, they indicate how teens view their
Should You be the One to Talk to Your Child?
It is clearly established that parents are in the best position to talk with
their children about drugs. While the schools have an important role to play,
they cannot do the job alone. The choice to use or refuse drugs is heavily
steeped in values. You alone are in a position to make sure your child knows
what you think is important. Teachers can provide information, but it is a
parentís job to provide a context in which this knowledge can be applied.
Parental ideas and discipline do more to shape the views of children than any
other influences in their lives.
Although many parents have no problem talking to their children about such
highly addictive drugs as cocaine or crack, they have a difficult time
discussing marijuana. This is because the case against harder drugs is
clear-cut. One would be hard-pressed to come up with an argument justifying the
use of these substances. Marijuana, however, is a different matter. For many
parents, it is not in the same category as cocaine or crack. Moreover, marijuana
is something many parents have themselves experienced.
This raises two issues. First is the question of risk. Is marijuana all that
harmful? After all, you yourself may have smoked marijuana and are none the
worse for the experience. Second, but perhaps more important, is the question of
hypocrisy. Isnít it hypocritical to warn children against a drug that you
yourself have used?
Letís address the second issue first. If your approach is, "Do as I say, not
as I do," you are indeed being hypocritical. However, if you openly discuss your
experiences with your children, you are being honest, not hypocritical. All of
us have done things we regret. Offering children an opportunity to learn from
your experiences is a wonderful part of being a parent. Moreover, seeing you in
human terms makes it easier for your children to relate to you and the message
you are giving them.
Of course, you can relate just as well to your child even if youíve never
smoked marijuana. After all, you didnít have to burn yourself on the stove in
order to teach your toddler not to touch it.
Is Marijuana Really Harmful?
Now letís consider the issue of marijuanaís harmfulness. If you ask most
teenagers, they will tell you that marijuana is safe to use. Though school drug
education programs have been telling them since the fourth grade that marijuana
can have serious side effects, many teens believe the dangers are greatly
exaggerated. "No one has ever died from pot," is a common teenage rationale for
True, people arenít likely to die from an overdose of marijuana. However,
marijuana is whatís known as a gateway drug. This means that those who smoke
marijuana are predisposed to go on and experiment with more powerful and
dangerous drugs. The first drug experience of most users is not likely to be
shooting up heroin or smoking crack.
In addition, teens who use marijuana are also more likely to use alcohol and
cigarettes. And the combined use of these substances has more serious health
consequences than the use of any one of these substances alone.
Moreover, marijuana itself is not the harmless high many teens and parents
think it is. For one thing, it is not the same substance young people were
smoking in the Sixties and Seventies. Todayís marijuana is far stronger. This
means that it is both more potent and has longer-lasting side effects. Consider
the following facts.
- Marijuana impairs short-term memory and the ability to
concentrateóabilities we all recognize as important for success in school.
- Marijuana slows reflexes and coordination and also impairs the ability
to judge distance, speed, and time óabilities essential to safe driving.
Many teenagers, who would never drink and drive, think nothing of driving
- Regular use of marijuana causes such respiratory problems as bronchitis,
sore throats, and coughs.
- Because marijuana is typically inhaled deeply, many experts believe it
may cause more long-term damage to the lungs and heart than cigarettes.
- Marijuana contains more cancer-causing agents than cigarettes.
- While marijuana is not addictive in the way that cocaine and other more
potent substances are, long-term use can lead to compelling dependence.
One final fact you should know is that the age at which children first try
marijuana has been dropping sharply. Thirty years ago, many youngsters who tried
marijuana did so as a symbol of rebellion and unity with the youth movement.
Todayís reasons for youthful experimentation are not much different. Rebellion
and a desire to be "cool" still prompt a good deal of marijuana use. Thirty
years ago, however, most users were in their late teens or early twenties.
Today, survey data puts the mean age of first use at barely 14 and preteen use
has become commonplace. Obviously, the younger the age of first time users, the
more immature and less capable they are of making responsible life decisions.
What to Say
Here are some questions you might discuss with younger children:
- What is marijuana and why is it illegal?
- What are the side effects of marijuana?
- What are the rules at home and school about marijuana use?
- How do movies, books, and music sometimes show marijuana in a favorable
- How can you pick supportive friends who are not into drug use?
For teenagers, you might want to discuss these topics:
- The effects of marijuana on school work, driving, and attitude
- Marijuana dependence
- How to resist peer pressure
- How to maintain a healthy lifestyle
- Dealing with stress without drugs
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