As soon as your child begins to talk, the questions come: “Why is it so big?” “Why is the lady crying?” Why can’t we go fast?” “Why is that man looking scary?” If you show your child that you’re ready and interested in giving answers at any time, even if the topics make you uncomfortable, you’ll create a trusting relationship and your child will feel comfortable coming to you with concerns and questions because she knows you will take her seriously. She knows you will listen and discuss and offer answers or help find answers.
Being a good listener also gives you insight into your child’s world. Your child will tell you about the sights and sounds that influence him every day… he’s the expert about fashion, music, TV, and movies that people his age follow and think are very cool. Ask him what music groups are popular and what their songs are about, what his friends like to do after school, what’s cool and what’s not and why. Encourage him with phrases such as “that’s interesting” or “I didn’t know that.” Don't hesitate to ask questions like, “Why do you like that…”
During conversations with your child/teen you will find moments where you can steer the conversation to serious issues… even briefly. Any number of topics will give you the opportunity to help your child make choices or better understand a situation. You will have the chance to share facts and solid information when you keep the lines of communication open. The US Department of Education has learned that our teenagers who say the learned a lot about the risks of drugs from their parents are much less likely to try marijuana, for example, than those who learned nothing.
You needn’t fear that by introducing the topic of drugs you’re “putting ideas” into your children’s heads any more than talking about traffic safety might make them run out in front of a car. You’re letting them know about potential dangers in their environment so that when they’re confronted with those dangers, they will know what to do.
If you wish to introduce the topic, ask your child what he’s learned about drugs in school and what he thinks of them. He may mention people who might be using them. If you hear something you don’t like (perhaps a friend’s older brother smokes marijuana… or your middle school aged child tried beer at a party), it is important not to react in any way that cuts off further discussion.
If your child seems defensive or assures you that he doesn’t know anyone who uses drugs, ask him why he thinks people use them. Discuss whether the risks are worth what people may get out of using them and whether he thinks it would be worth it to take the risks. Discuss how experimentation alone is to great a gamble… one bad experience or misjudgement can change a life forever.
Individual discussions do not need to be long conversations. Pick the topic up again at another opportunity.
Take advantage of everyday “teachable moments” when time and topic seem to come together and there is opportunity to discuss those difficult subjects:
Talking to your children about the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs with factual information is an important step in keeping them safe and healthy. However, often the other important step is overlooked: making sure that children have clear rules about alcohol, tobacco and drug use. Unless you are clear about your position children may be confused and thus tempted to use. Make sure you explain to them that you love them and these rules are to keep them safe.
Here are some things to keep in mind when making and sticking to the household rules:
The better you communicate, the more at ease your child will feel about discussing drugs and other sensitive issues with you. This comfort level will grow and continue as your child ages and can blossom into a wonderful parent/child life long relationship.