Tips for talking to your child about drug use

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Parents are the most powerful influence a child has against drug use and abuse. Let’s be clear, drugs are here to stay and there are no guarantees your child will never use drugs. Marijuana, tobacco and alcohol are gateway drugs that are readily available, and adolescents are very creative about getting what they want.

With medicinal marijuana becoming legal in many states, we’re seeing the conversation with kids changing. Many think it’s now safe to use since it’s legal. However, marijuana can be extremely harmful to an adolescent’s health and development. You should let your kids know that what is being dispensed legally is very different than what’s being sold on the street.

It’s also crucial to understand that the brain doesn’t reach full development until at least age 25. Using marijuana can affect the brain by impairing memory and concentration, interfering with learning, and lowering odds of completing high school or obtaining a college degree. It can alter motor control, coordination and judgment, which may contribute to unintentional deaths and injuries. Regular use can lead to psychological problems, poor lung health, and a higher likelihood of drug dependence in adulthood.

Educate yourself about drugs

Communication and education are two of the most important keys in the fight against adolescent drug abuse. To talk to children about drugs, we encourage parents to first educate themselves on the subject matter. Learn about the current drugs in the community and where they’re sold. Know the people your child is hanging out with and where they live. This information will prepare you to start a conversation with your kids. Parents are often surprised how comfortable a child is talking about drugs. Many kids are actually bothered by friends using drugs and have questions for their parents; they just don’t know how to approach you or are too scared.

The earlier we can teach children about the dangers of drugs, the better the chances we have of them not wanting to try them. We recommend parents start talking about drugs with children as soon as you think they can understand.

Here are some tips for how to start the conversation early on:

  • Starting with the toddlers (three to five years old), tell them how important it is to have an adult present when receiving medicine. Be clear of the dangers that could come about if they don’t follow this rule.
  • As they continue to grow up, talk about the dangers of taking medicine that doesn’t belong to them.
  • With children in grade school, it’s a good time to start talking about the dangers of drug use. Prepare your child for a time when drugs may be offered.

Having an open line of communication with your kids can help you catch problems early, and help you stay aware of what is happening in your child’s life.

  • Talk openly with your child about drugs and alcohol.
  • Make the conversation nonconfrontational and comfortable.
  • Ease into the conversation and try not to be accusatory, but curious.
  • Be aware of aggressive and assertive body language, it can turn a child off right away.
  • Role play with your child about ways to refuse drugs.
  • Create a code word or phrase your child can use to alert you to when they’re in trouble and need you.

It’s also just as important to stay engaged in your child’s life.

  • Let them know you’re interested in their daily activities, and talk to them about their day.
  • Participate in their extracurricular activities. Show them they are important and the time you spend with them means a lot to you.
  • Monitor your teenagers and know who their friends are.
  • Teach responsibility and consequences.
  • Allow as little unsupervised time for your child as you can.

Parents play an important role in the sobriety of their children. Positive influence and productive conversations with your child can carry them a long way in having a healthy, drug-free life.

Authors

Keshia Brooks, BSPH, MBA, is a prevention education coordinator at Pathways, Anne Arundel Medical Center’s substance abuse and mental health treatment facility. You can reach her office at 410-573-5400.

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