Allow us to state the obvious for a minute: keeping your kids away from drugs, alcohol, etc. is incredibly difficult. We know this and we feel your pain.
So, we thought today would be a good day to talk about some actions you can take to keep your kids’ exposure to and curiosity about illicit substances and activities to a minimum.
Understanding the Facts
First, you need to know that you won’t be able to keep your kids 100% unexposed. You should also know that you can’t wait to start talking to your kids about the dangers and temptations they will face as they grow up. By the time your kids are in high school, they’ll likely have already been exposed and there is more than a small chance they’ll have tried “soft” drugs like marijuana. In fact, there are 19.8 million current users of marijuana in the 12+ age group. Twelve! That’s so young!
In addition to the scary statistics, it is also important to educate yourself as to the facts surrounding the drugs and behaviors they are likely to try. Unfortunately what most of us learned in our own childhoods during D.A.R.E and in Nancy Reagan-esque drug lectures is largely false. Understand the science behind the drugs, their effects, and even how addictions happen, etc. The more facts you know, the more calmly you will likely be able to deal with your kids’ curiosities and exposure.
Remove the Stigma
The last thing in the world you might want is for your kids to even think about experimenting with drugs (or other stuff). Your instinct is likely to put your foot firmly down and declare anything and anybody having anything remotely to do with drugs to be completely off limits.
Guess what: while there is no shame in being a strict parent, if you declare something completely off limits you will actually increase your kids’ curiosity and determination to know more about and to try out this thing you hate. This is particularly true for teenage children whose brains are wired at this age to test boundaries and to turn the forbidden into an exciting adventure.
While inside you might cringe and want to scream when your kids ask why drugs are bad, it’s better to stay calm and to keep the conversation flowing. When your kids know that they can talk to you about anything, they’ll be more likely to ask questions and trust your answers than they will to decide they need to test things out for themselves.
In fact, it is good to introduce the idea of drug use yourself via movies/tv shows that you watch together as a family. When you watch a show or movie where drug use or other problematic issues arise, ask your kids what they think about what is happening on screen. It’s a great way to open the conversation in a way that hopefully won’t make them feel defensive.
At the same time, however, you do need to set limits. Kids–especially teenagers–need structure and well-defined boundaries. This is often a very difficult part of parenting: carrying through on the threat. Even so, it is better to ground and take away privileges when your kids mess up than to simply express disappointment. The threat of an unwanted punishment will do a lot more to deter your kids away from drugs than a heartfelt speech on why you hope they won’t try them or use them anymore.
It is important, also, that these limits are consistent. If you use punishment A for behavior A then you need to always use punishment A for behavior A. You can increase or decrease the severity of punishment A depending on the severity of the disobedience, but don’t suddenly switch to punishment B. Not knowing what will happen if they mess up doesn’t scare kids away from disobeying you. It increases their curiosity about what you might do and their interest in finding out. Hey, nobody said the pre and teenage brains were logical, right?
The point is this: you can’t lock your kids up in bubbles and keep them forever locked away from every single thing you find questionable or objectionable. They are going to be exposed and curious about ideas, substances, behaviors, etc. that you dislike or even fear. You don’t necessarily have to engage that curiosity (like the parent who offers their kid a beer to take the curiosity away), but you need to accept that it exists.
Remember: the calmer you are and the more open you are with them, the better able you will be to ensure that your kids know what to do when tempted against their better natures.