With the new school year just underway, it’s an excellent time for parents to have a serious discussion with their children. No, not that awkward sex talk but a conversation even more important, one about illicit drugs and the dangers they represent.
With marijuana now legal, either medically or recreationally, in all but four states, it has helped reduce the negative stigma, especially for young people, that once applied to all drugs. For many teens, these changes in society may have them thinking that other drugs, whether illegal street drugs or stolen prescription pills, are probably OK as well.
With virtually every child exposed to illicit drugs these days, talking about the issue is a critical part of parenting. And it’s a conversation that experts recommend starting as early as age five.
A five year old can understand, when given clear explanations by a parent, why substances like cigarettes, alcohol and household products can all be harmful, and why never to swallow a pill or anything else that mom and dad hasn’t given them.
For older children, parents should help a child develop a “plan of action” about what to do when confronted with drugs. Ask questions such as, “What would you do if a friend wanted you to try drugs?” “How would you feel about that person?” Listen to your child’s responses without being critical. Try to gently lead him or her into thinking in appropriate ways about the situation, without criticizing or forcing your own ideas on the child. You want to ensure that your child has thought about drug-related issues, rather than being shocked or overwhelmed when drugs are encountered in the real world.
With teenagers, try questioning what drugs might mean to their lives. If a child is considering college or military service, discuss what effect drugs might have on achieving those goals.
Basic education about the problems and dangers that drugs can bring is an effective tool in helping your child, especially in light of the current opioid epidemic and increasing numbers of illicit fentanyl deaths.
Parental behavior also matters. Discard those left-over pain pills in your medicine cabinet. Keep tabs on prescribed medications. Be a good model. When children are aware that parents use drugs or drink heavily, it is hard for them to see why they can’t do the same themselves.
Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association.