Addiction has ripped thru my family in many ways over the last 20 years. I have lost family members and friends to death because of their addictions. I have lost friends and family because I couldn’t enable their choices. That said, I was a D.A.R.E. kid and used for a long time myself. (I still used as a teen so D.A.R.E. didn’t get my attention…) I have had to spend some serious time thinking about how I handle drug education for kids in my house.
Drug Education tips for Parents
**** If you are currently struggling with addiction please reach out for help. Addiction doesn’t have to take your life from you. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
You are not your addiction and you can beat this.
I am not an addiction counselor or professional. Everything shared here is an opinion about how I am handling drug education in my house.
My addiction story
When I was a teenager, I went thru some really heavy and really dark things that a teen should never experience. Now, as an early middle schooler, I completed D.A.R.E. I promised to never touch drugs and to always say no. I swore I was above peer pressure.
Then my insecurity and my brokenness met the promise of a way out and relief and I jumped on it. All of my promises faded to nothing when I was more focused on filling a brokenness in me than avoiding drugs.
I used many things for all of my teen years. Until I moved in with family in Miami and received some of the help I desperately needed. Then I was able to kick that drug usage. I am still an addict. However, with 17 years of sobriety, I see the value of staying away from it. I have found new ways to cope and move past the addiction that bound me.
What do I tell my kids about my past?
Many parents will ask me how I approach my past with my kids. The honest answer, I tell them the truth. “Well how can you tell your kids not to do something you did yourself?” is the question I am asked most.
If you have just run out of a burning building and you see someone running in, do you let them go because you were just in there so you can’t speak to it, or do you warn them because you know the danger?
I have always been honest with my kids because there will come a day when their fears, insecurities, and need to feel something will meet someone who wants them to try using something to fill those gaps.
Talking to your children about drugs
Drugs can be a difficult subject. In our culture, with a move towards legalizing marijuana which used to be so taboo when I was a teen, and the invention of new drugs that can kill our children, it can be so hard to figure out what to say and where the lines are. I want to share a few questions you can ask as you prepare to talk to your kids about drugs honestly.
What fits their age and maturity level?
Children are resilient but there is some information that is not appropriate for younger children. It can be a simple conversation when they are small. Something as simple as don’t take food or drink or medicine from anyone except your parents can handle things.
However, as they get older the conversations will change.
How mature is your child?
Now, I want to be delicate here as I understand we all parent very differently. You will know your child. You will know what will break their heart, get stuck in their head on repeat, or scare them.
When it comes to drug education, it is ok if your kids are a little bit uncomfortable. Let me say that again. IT IS OK IF THEY ARE UNCOMFORTABLE.
Let me clarify what I mean though. Many parents won’t talk to their kids about drugs because sharing anything about the consequences of addiction is hard and heavy and may upset them.
I wish I would have had a little less happy drug education and a little more honesty about the risks I was taking. I am not exaggerating when I say I shouldn’t be here today because of some of the risks I took.
Be honest with your kids while staying on their level as to what the risks and consequences of drug usage are. Don’t scare them just to scare them. Educate them with their age and maturity level in mind.
What have they already seen/learned?
Some of their peers may have beat you to the punch. I would definitely recommend getting a strong read on what they have already learned. My children watched someone they love die because of addiction. Another family member is estranged because of a drug use issue.
Because of this, my kids understand more than some will.
Lead with questions
Questions like, “What do you consider a drug?” “Are drugs safe?” “If someone offers you drugs, what should you do?” “What drugs are you aware of?” “Do you have friends who have already tried drugs?”
These questions will frame the rest of your conversation. You might find that your children know more or less than you initially believed.
What drugs will you speak about?
There are many new drugs that didn’t exist even a decade ago. With a move towards things like k2 and spice as well as many prescription meds being abused, it can be hard to decide what to address.
I have told my kids, “If you can smoke it, sniff it, inject it, take it as a pill, or if it is food that you did see made or get from a store, don’t use it.” I know that sounds extreme but it is true.
I recommend reaching out to a local police department to find out what drugs are common in your area. It will help you to have a more informed conversation with your children. The police department also might have information on these substances.
Homeschool Drug Education
Here I might step on some toes. I am ok with that. Homeschoolers have a reputation for sheltering their kids. I won’t have that debate now. I will say this. Talk to your homeschooler about drugs. Be honest with them. You may think they won’t encounter drugs. You may think they would never use them. Teach them anyway.
You homeschool your child to give them the best educational opportunities and prepare them for the world. Make sure that drug education in a non-judgmental fashion is part of your curriculum. Hold conversations with them now that could save their life when they grow up and leave your home.
Is your home Drug Abuse safe?
Did you know that many teens are falling into addiction without ever leaving the house? Medications are left in medicine cabinets and easily accessible to young people. This means that they might try a pain pill you have from an old operation or an addictive medication that seems harmless in your home.
I highly recommend locking up any narcotics or anything that has a dependency possibility. You can get this information from your local police department or from your pharmacist when picking up prescriptions.
It also helps to hold an honest conversation with your doctor about the medications you and your children are prescribed. My doctor knows I want nothing with a narcotic or with a potential for addiction. My pediatrician knows to approach pain management and treatment from every possible angle before using something that could have a dependency issue with the kids.
Give your kids a safe way out.
When parents talk about drugs with their kids there is a temptation to scare them. “If I ever find out you used drugs I’m going to….”
I won’t tell you how to parent. I will ask you this. If your children are afraid of consequences and judgment are you going to be the person they come to if they use or the person they call if they are at a party that has drugs?
Instead, lead with honesty and grace. Let your kids know you are their safe harbor. They can come to you and you will help them find the help they need. Let your kids know they can always call you to get out of a situation where they could get hurt. I tell mine, “I don’t care if it is 3AM. Call your mother if you ever decide to take something. I will come for you. I won’t yell. I won’t get angry. I will come for you and once you are safe at home we can talk about what happened.”
I don’t want to lose my children because they were more scared of me than they were of getting in the car with someone under the influence.
Will you discuss the consequences of drug abuse?
Drug abuse has some very real and very scary consequences. Which of these consequences will you be sharing about? Will you talk about the fact that they can kill your child, steal their future from them, break up their most valuable relationships?
Only you can decide what your child can handle. I would ask as an addict who’s lost a loved one because her addiction consumed her, please please please please tell them this could kill them. Please tell them you love them. Tell them you would miss them. Tell them that addiction gets harder to walk away from home with every exposure to a dependent substance. Be honest with your kids to save them from the hurt that drug abuse can cause.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you are overwhelmed with the idea of discussing drugs with your children, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask your local police department what resources exist where you live to help you better educate your child about drugs and their risks.