How to talk to kids about drugs

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Family Matters

By Sam George

This month, we have been talking about raising drug-free kids. Over the last few weeks, we looked at the contemporary drug culture in which our kids are growing up and what parents can do to help them navigate through it. Today we turn to how parents can proactively talk to kids about drugs.

Parents must make the most of every opportunity to educate their kids about the harmful effects of drugs, whether it is during a television commercial or opening the medicine cabinet. There is never a “good time” to have such a discussion. Any time is a good time to transmit positive values to the next generation and warn kids about dangerous behaviors.

Because experimentation with drugs and alcohol commonly begins during the grade-school years, start appropriate countermeasures in very young children. A 5-year-old boy may not be ready for a lecture about the physiology of cocaine addiction, but you should be ready to offer commentary when you and your child see someone smoking or drinking, whether in real life or in a movie.

Make an effort to stay one step ahead of your child’s knowledge of the drug scene. If you hear about an athlete, rock star or celebrity, who uses drugs, be certain that everyone in the family understands that no amount of fame or fortune excuses this behavior.

Be aware of current trends in your community and look for local meetings or lectures where abuse problems are being discussed. Find out what’s going on – not only from the experts but from your kids and their friends. It may be the busiest time in your career or when responsibilities are heavy where your adolescents at home most need your input.

Don’t blindly assume that the presence of a grown-up guarantees a safe environment. Get to know the parents of your kids’ friends. Make certain your child knows you will pick him up anytime, anywhere – no questions asked — if he finds himself in a situation where drugs or alcohol are being used. And be sure to praise him for making wise decisions if he does so.

The epidemic of drug abuse spreads from person to person. Whether a recent acquaintance or a long-term friend, if one (or more) of your teenager’s friends is known to be actively using alcohol and/or drugs, you must put restrictions on the relationship.

Even with these limits in place, you will need to keep track of who is influencing whom. If your family is reaching out to a troubled adolescent and helping to move him toward healthier decisions, keep up the good work. But, if there is any sign that the drug-using friend is pulling your teenager toward his lifestyle, declare quarantine immediately.

Teenagers may not be scared off by facts, figures and gory details. Even the most ominous warnings may not override an adolescent’s belief in his or her own immortality, especially when other compelling emotions such as the need for peer acceptance, are operating at full throttle.

You may improve the odds by making it clear that you consider the use of cigarettes, alcohol or illegal drugs a very serious matter. If your adolescent confesses that he tried a cigarette or a beer at a party and expresses an appropriate resolve to avoid a repeat performance, a heart-to-heart conversation would be more appropriate than grounding him for six months.

But if your warnings repeatedly go unheeded, you will need to establish and enforce some meaningful consequences, including the loss of driving, dating or phone/Internet privileges.

Sam George is the executive director of Parivar International, a non-profit initiative to address the needs of youth and families of Asian Indian origin in North America.  Sam is the author of the book “Understanding the Coconut Generation” (www.CoconutGeneration.com). He can be reached at sam@coconutgeneration.com

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