You want your kids to say no to drugs, even though years ago you said yes. You want to “have the talk” but you feel like a hypocrite every time the subject comes up. The uncomfortable feelings make you avoid the subject, yet you feel guilty because you want to be a good parent and warn your children about the dangers of drug use.
If you see yourself in that paragraph, you are not alone. The vast majority of baby boomers, now parents themselves, have tried marijuana. Sixty percent now use alcohol regularly; twenty percent are heavy or binge drinkers. Five percent of today’s baby boomers still use illicit drugs on a regular basis. Illicit drugs are marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or prescription-type psychotherapeutics used non-medically.
Perhaps this is why most baby boomers did not react when former President Bill Clinton said he had tried marijuana. His own daughter was twelve years old when he said that. So given this state of affairs, what should parents do? No one wants to be a hypocrite.
Leading researchers offer parents three major guidelines. Let’s look at them one by one.
- What happened when you were young is not relevant anymore.
If you grew up in the 1970s or earlier, the drug scene was very different from the one your children are facing now. Think about these statistics: Over half of all eighth graders have tried drinking, 41% have smoked cigarettes and 20% have used pot. The average national age of experimenting with illegal substances is down to nine years old. Children who smoke marijuana begin at age thirteen, and the cigarette often is laced with crack, cocaine, or PCP.
According to a landmark government survey done in 2005, 86% of teenagers know someone who is actively abusing prescription drugs; 42% know people using acid, cocaine or heroin, and 28% have friends who use Ecstasy. Half of all high school seniors said they had a drink in the past month; 32% said they got drunk once in that period. Fifty percent of teenagers (12-17 years old) said they attend drug and alcohol parties without any adults present.
In your child’s world, drugs are readily available and much more powerful than the ones you experimented with when you were young.
- Your past drug use is not as important as the way you act now.
You can find experts who believe the best policy is for all parents to be honest and tell children about their past drug use. Many advise being completely open and honest without supplying a lot of details. You should say something like, “Everybody makes mistakes. When I used drugs, I made a big one.” Some pediatricians point out it’s always wrong to lie, because when your child finds out the truth, you’re in big trouble.
On the other hand, experts like Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Dr. James Dodson take a conservative view. If you share your past drug use with your children, you give them permission to act the same way at the age when you did drugs. Like any large mammals, our children learn primarily by our examples. The best thing for parents to do is insist on a zero-tolerance policy of both drug and alcohol use and lie about the past or just keep discussions from going there.
Nevertheless, all leading researchers and experts agree on one thing: your role model and concern are the most important factors in keeping your kids drug-free. The example you set now is the one your child will imitate later. If you smoke cigarettes, your child is more likely to smoke. If you quit smoking, so will your child.
If you come home from work and “need a drink,” if your parties are centered around drinking and if you allow friends to drive home drunk, or if you cope with stress by using drugs, your child will imitate those attitudes and behaviors. On the other hand, if you handle stress with exercise or “talk” therapy, if you avoid cigarettes and excessive use of alcohol, and if you avoid drugs except for medical reasons, your child will imitate your positive example.
- You have to talk to your kids about drugs.
In the 1980s, our government spent a lot of money on school anti-drug programs such as DARE and Project Alert. Follow-up studies found out that they were either not effective at all or effective only as supplements to parental guidance. One such study concluded that “the family is the primary focus: the school only can reinforce the family.”
Parents are the “anti-drug.” Teens who confide in their parents are at the lowest risk for drug abuse. Teens and pre-teens tell researchers in survey after survey that they want their parents to talk to them about drugs, and that parental disapproval is the number one reason they choose not to drink or do drugs.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to sit down and have “The Talk.” Ideally, you should be clear about your views any time the subject comes up. The “one-minute parent” approach is often more effective, especially if you start when your child is in the early grades. Just broadcast an anti-drug view every time the subject comes up naturally. Emphasize again and again that while you understand that drugs are available, you do not want your child to experiment with them. If you can delay your child’s experiments until he or she is over twenty years old, the chances of your child’s becoming addicted are minimal.
Remember your past is not as important as your child’s present. What happened in the 1970s can stay in the 1970s.