It is our responsibility as parents to overcome our fears and talk to our children about what may literally be a matter of life and death for them – drug and alcohol use. Every child is at risk for experimentation, abuse, addiction, and all of the horrific consequences that can ensue.
For many parents, talking to their children about alcohol and drugs is even scarier than the “sex talk” will. Bringing substance use into the open makes us uncomfortable, for a variety of reasons:
- We don’t want to bring the subject up too early.
- We have a personal history of drug/alcohol use.
- We think our children won’t listen.
- We’re afraid of what our children might tell US.
- We don’t have all the answers.
- … And many, many MORE.
Let’s address those fears, one by one –
“We Don’t Want to Bring the Subject Up Too Early.”
Sadly, there is almost no such thing as TOO EARLY. In some areas, roughly 1 out of every 9 youths in substance abuse treatment started using alcohol or drugs before they turned 11. 55% of teenagers self-report that they first tried drugs because of peer pressure.
Like it or not, your child is already being exposed. Now it up to you to give them healthy guidance.
“Drug and alcohol abuse do not discriminate. They impact children in every nation and every environment and every walk of life. No matter how compliant or well-behaved your children are, please don’t put your head in the sand and think that you won’t have to confront this issue with them at some point.”
~Glenn Williams, Talking Smack: Who’s Speaking to Your Kids about Drugs and Alcohol, If You’re Not?
“We Have a Personal History of Drug and Alcohol Use.”
YOU are the parent, and it is not necessary to talk about your own past substance abuse problems to effectively communicate a strong anti-drug message to your children.
In fact, a recent study suggests that when parents share their own past experiences with substance abuse, the intended message gets lost – even when the experiences shared are very negative. As a result, those teams end up having a MORE POSITIVE view of drugs.
Lead author Dr. Jennifer Kam, an Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says, “…even when the parents say they regretted using drugs, the fact that the parents used them at all undermines the negative point they’re trying to make.”
“The more often the parents talked about regret over their own use, the bad things that happened, and that they'd never use it again, the students were more likely to report pro-substance-use beliefs.”
Talk with your kids – tell them of the dangers of drug and alcohol use, establish clear boundaries, and make sure they understand your family’s anti-drug position, but keep your personal history to yourself.
“We Think Our Children Won’t Listen.”
It’s true that talking to teenagers can be frustrating, but believe it or not – they are listening. Take a look at these findings from The Partnership for a Drug-Free America’s “Partnership Attitude Tracking Study”:
- 75% of 4th graders want MORE information about drug and alcohol issues from their parents.
- Among surveyed teens whose parents taught them “a lot” about drugs, only 26% had tried
- “A little” – 33%
- “Nothing” – 46%
- Only 25% of teenagers feel they are getting adequate parental guidance about why and how to avoid drugs.
If your child doesn’t feel comfortable talking to YOU, then they will talk to someone else, even if those other sources are unreliable. When kids learn about drugs and alcohol “on the street”, it becomes more likely that they will engage in risky behaviors or experimentation.
“We’re Afraid of What Our Children Might Tell US.”
Finding out that your teenager is using drugs or alcohol can feel my worst nightmare. But there is also another way to look at – The first step towards getting help is ADMITTING there is a problem.
Now that you know, you can help your child take positive steps to recovering from substance abuse:
- Educate yourself about the disease of addiction.
- See a physician about your teenager’s medical health.
- Immediately seek professional treatment for the addictive disorder and any co-occurring psychiatric conditions.
And that gives the answer to the final listed fear – “We don’t have all the answers.”
You don’t have to, and you’re not supposed to. The disease of addiction is bigger than any one individual or any one family. Feeling powerless and out-of-control is a major indicator of how destructive the illness can be.
But with specialized care that addresses your teen’s unique needs as an individual, it is possible for your child to regain their sobriety and your family to regain its sanity. For over 35 years, Teensavers Treatment Centers in Orange County, California, has been the most-trusted resource for families and teens in crisis.
If you have need, contact Teensavers today to get answers to your questions.
By Albert Fontenot