Starting Young: Preparing Children for When They're Offered Drugs

Statistics show that, sooner or later, it's likely that someone, somewhere, is going to offer your child alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. How can you prepare them for that possibility?

It's wishful thinking to assume we just have to teach our children to say no. In order to "say no," they have to want to turn down the offer, even if they are curious about a drug and being pressured to try it. So part of the challenge for parents is to help our children understand the dangers of using drugs. Most children get some drug education in school, but we need to reinforce it at home, ideally beginning when our kids are very young. We shouldn't start with a drum roll announcing a drug talk or begin with a sermon. Instead we can seize upon teachable moments to start discussions, such as when we see an intoxicated uncle at a family event, or children smoking cigarettes on the street, or a film involving drugs. We can ask children what they have noticed and what they think, and then offer our opinions.

A big mistake parents make in helping children cope with our drug-filled world has been a failure to prepare them for when they begin hearing the "good things" about drugs from older siblings or older children. When these benefits are ignored, children see their parents as narrow-minded and "out of it." They think that talk of "drug dangers" is just for young kids and not something to be taken seriously. So when parents talk about drug dangers with children, we should acknowledge that drugs can feel good, be fun and be a way to "fit in" or to "forget problems." However, we must also tell our children that part of our responsibility as parents is to help them learn to meet their needs in healthy ways, so they do not resort to using dangerous and addictive drugs to feel good, fit in, or relax.

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