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A Critical Conversation

How do you talk to your kids about drugs? That is a perplexing question that parents around the country are struggling with. Most will agree that it is a conversation that needs to be had. ...

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How do you talk to your kids about drugs? That is a perplexing question that parents around the country are struggling with. Most will agree that it is a conversation that needs to be had. However, how does one approach this critical question?

There is no uniform agreement on how to approach our children about the issue of drug and alcohol use, especially if you as a parent used illegal drugs when you were young. Let me suggest a couple of principles to consider when you talk to your children about any of life s delicate and complicated issues.

First and foremost, we must be honest when it comes to the facts of our lives. Lying, no matter how small, always comes back to cause greater difficulty, especially when it comes to your credibility. Remember the conversation isn t about you. It is about your child s safety and health. It is about empowering your child to make positive decisions in difficult social circumstances.

If you experimented or abused illegal substances in your youth, I think it s helpful to acknowledge that but it s not necessary to get into all the gory details. Most importantly to point out that as an adult, you realize the error of your ways. Sharing your history is purposeful, to help your son or daughter realize that you empathize with them regarding peer pressure and decision-making. The focus should not be on your poor decision-making in the past, but rather on them and helping them not to make the same mistakes you made.

As parents, you know your children. Use your good judgment in deciding what is appropriate or not appropriate to share. The important issue here is to create a climate of openness and realness so that your children will have the courage to share their experiences and to ask pointed questions.

In your effort to be honest and straightforward, do not give more information about your personal history than what is asked for. You are not on trial. It is not a courtroom, it s a conversation. There is nothing wrong with indicating that some questions make you uncomfortable and at this time you would prefer not to address them. Remind them that the focus of the conversation is about them. Don t beat around the bush. The bottom line is you don t want them to use illegal drugs of any kind in your house or with their friends. Explain why it s a problem. The obvious is it is illegal. Drugs are dangerous, expensive, unpredictable, and can be lethal. As parents, it is our responsibility to protect our children from dangerous social behaviors.

Before you talk to your children, take stock. You have lived your whole life in a culture where drugs and underage drinking are a fact of life; from the headlines on TV to the latest pop singer or celebrity going into a rehab to your own personal experiences. You have seen too many examples of how drugs and reckless drinking can change a person s life for the worse. The real opportunity here is to share your wisdom from experience.

Talk about peer pressure, and how hard it is at times to say no to poor social choices. Acknowledge the social pressure to fit in and feel accepted. Everyone makes mistakes, even we as parents have. Stress because of love, you cannot sit by and watch your son or daughter repeat a bad decision.

Be conscious not to sermonize or preach at your children. You want to be genuine and real and let them know that you are really afraid for them. It is really hard for you and for them to navigate life s complicated landscape.

Don t just talk. Listen. Probably your son or daughter s first reaction to this conversation will be silence! Try as hard as you can to make it a two-way conversation. Ask them what they think. Ask them if this is a subject that they talk to their friends about. What s their perspective on the illegal drug and illegal alcohol use? What do they think of all the athletes and other celebrities who use drugs? Keep asking the questions, but more importantly, wait to listen to their responses!

Whatever happens, try not to lose your temper and raise your voice. If you feel like you are losing your temper, try to catch yourself. There is nothing wrong with admitting that these conversations are difficult for you too. If it really seems that things are not going well and that people are shutting down, suggest postponing the conversation till another time. Don t be afraid to express to your children that you are sorry if this conversation made them feel awkward or uncomfortable. Let them know that you are willing to talk again in a few days. However, be clear that the conversation is not finished. Candidly, let them know that you would like ongoing conversations not just about drugs but also about other important life issues.

Be prepared that these life lesson conversations may not always play out as you have planned. You may be overwhelmed with what they express. You must be prepared to deal with it in a life-giving way, not in a punitive or dismissive way. Don t be shocked that you as the adult will probably learn something you didn t know; not only about your kids, but about our world and what our kids must deal with on a regular basis.

Let s be honest, these issues are hard to talk about on a good day. They are much more tender to address in the midst of a crisis or catastrophe. The time is now to face these difficult conversations. If you approach them with an open heart and open mind, they can truly be teachable moments for you and your children.

The illegal use of alcohol and drugs is spreading like wildfire across the country and our county. There is not a community that is not dealing with reckless and out-of-control social behavior among its young. Too many of our neighbors continue to minimize the seriousness of this social infection. There is not a group of high school students that are not wrestling with these issues. It is a serious issue among athletes, among honor students, among student leaders and among the fringe students. No clique of students is exempt from this epidemic.

When our children were born, we did not receive a parenting manual. Life has changed so radically in the past 15 years. As parents, we are dealing with so many other issues that complicate growing up. Although we have so many new social networking opportunities, we communicate less. We cannot put these conversations off. They are essential. They are about our children s future!