One of the hardest things to do with your kids is talking to them about drugs, alcohol and smoking. There are numerous books about these very topics, but who has time to read those? Parents need “Cliffs Notes” or “Dummies Guide to talking to kids about XYZ.” Am I right?! Well, as a parent to 3 teenagers and one more kid not far behind, I’m going to share what has worked in my house. My husband and I are by NO MEANS experts. But I thought I’d share what we have done in hopes that some of you might find these tips useful. I’m just going to use 5, but know that there are many, many more!
- Start early. I love the “Say NO to Drugs” campaign our school system uses. It’s used all over the country and it literally starts in kindergarten. When my oldest (almost 19) started talking about this program when he was 5, I was honestly shocked! I thought, “Isn’t this a bit early to start this topic and make them aware of these things?” I was obviously a naive, first-time parent! I quickly learned that this program starts at the perfect age. All our kids came home with catchy sayings and red ribbons on their shirts. Those simple little things started big important conversations. They learned that drugs did bad things and the key was to never START using them. Since that kindergarten age, the drug topic wasn’t scary to them. It wasn’t some “boogie man” type topic that we were afraid to discuss. We used this campaign to jump right in and discuss this topic often and easily.
- Talk about these things in everyday conversations. Don’t wait until they are pre-teens or teens and proceed to sit them down for a lengthy conversation. All they will do is hear the “Charlie Brown teacher voice” and roll their eyes. Older kids don’t want to be preached to – they want quick, bullet-point type conversations. They already think all parents are “lame” and have that they better things to do than listen to a lecture. Use the earlier years when they do listen to you more as the time to get more specific. If you hear a commercial on TV or radio, talk to them. Those are excellent ways to illustrate that what you are telling is real and can happen. I do tell my kids that the people in the commercials and who get sick because of drugs, alcohol or smoking are not “bad” people. They are just people who didn’t make good choices. That point has really resonated with all my kids!
- Be Realistic. They will mess up. Kids and teenagers are human, too! Plus, teenagers have underdeveloped frontal lobes (which is where decision making happens). My husband and I are realistic with them about what we did at their age. We share our past so our kids know that we have been there. They really listen to our childhood stories and we often find ourselves laughing at our mistakes.
- Talk about peer pressure. We talk to them about peer pressure and specific ways to deal with it. We encourage them to stand up for what they believe in, even if it’s not “popular.” We go through specific scenarios and ask them what they would do. Again, start this at an early age, then it won’t feel awkward when they are teens.
- Set consequences. This goes back to #3. They will mess up and when they do, they need to know two things: 1.) where to go for help and 2.) what consequences are for that action. Example: if one of our kids is at at party and there is drinking and they drink, they know they are to 1.) call us for a ride or get a safe driver to bring them home and 2.) in the morning, they are in trouble. We stress that in that moment (the party), the most important thing is for them to get home safely. We literally tell them that “We’d rather get a call from a “drunk” you than from police or EMS.” This may sound to you like we are giving them permission to drink, but we’re not – we are looking at the bigger picture and keeping our communication open.
Remember that all kids and parents are different. These 5 tips are just that – tips. As a parent, you have to navigate and adapt to what works for you and your children. Start early. Keep the conversation flowing. Remember to see the “big picture.” Then, you will find that these scary topics (and others) aren’t nearly as frightening as the Boogie Man!
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