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Talking to Your Kids About Drugs: 4 Healthy Concepts to Consider

What are some healthy ways to communicate with your children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol? The first thing one need consider is what kind of relationship the parent or guardian has with the child.
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A few months ago I attended (and spoke briefly) at what used to be called a "Parent's/Teacher Association" meeting. Whoever attended, it was an evening to discuss the evergreen topic of talking to your kids about drugs. The panel consisted of a judge who talked about the legal ramifications of drug/alcohol use, a nurse who demonstrated how to administer a urination drug test, a recovery center administrator who displayed graphs upon graphs of the increasing rise in high school students using drugs and/or alcohol and a myriad of others who sprinkled words of wisdom about the overall state of affairs in the world of substance abuse.

All was very informative, but I couldn't help wonder where the actual guidance in the dialogue was. For years we have heard "just say no" and saw the dramatic television ad of an egg frying as the voice dramatically announced that "this was your brain on drugs."

Talking to your children about drugs and alcohol isn't easy. It used to be that talking to them about sex was difficult, but the Internet and movies have taken away many of those "heebie jeebies".

So, what are some healthy ways to communicate with your children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol? The first thing one need consider is what kind of relationship the parent or guardian has with the child. If there is little or no interaction in other areas or the child is already off and running in their own world, disregarding any input from anyone, then the chances of that child taking to heart any advice you may give is slim to none.

However, let's look at the child where the relationship they have with their parent is respectful and honest.

  1. Start Out on the Positive and Not the Negative.

I believe in starting out the discussion reinstating the positive, respectful and honest behavior your child has performed; maybe even citing specific incidents that you as a parent were especially proud of. Your child starts with a clean slate or lots of credits in his column and if poor choices or out of control behavior transpires this results in moving some of those credits to the doubtful or non-trusting side.

Here is a sample dialogue that you might consider. "Mark/Sue, you are a reliable boy/girl. You are conscientious in school, respectful of your family and friends and we have always had the pleasure of trusting you and your decisions. We hope that our confidence in your good judgment will not be compromised when it comes to making the proper choice of not drinking (or drinking responsibly) or using drugs".

This kind of dialogue allows your child the experience of being treated like an adult; on the same par as you might talk to an adult peer. I believe the child will appreciate your trust and feel proud that they have earned it from their actions.

  • Have a Game Plan that You and Your Child Construct Together; Good Behavior Rewards, as well as Broken Commitment Consequences
  • I suggest to my clients that working with your child on both your expectations and theirs is a perfect way to form a pact or contract between the two of you.

    For example -- If your child is going out for the evening with friends or to a party, ask them how they see the night unfolding and what their plans are if they find themselves in a situation that is not comfortable for them. If they shrug it off, tell you that they will handle it or nothing will happen, let them know you are glad and relieved of that, but you would like a plan none the less and to please indulge you even if it seems silly. It is the wise parent that is able to hold the child accountable for their actions or lack thereof with a plan that has already been established versus bumping along the bottom or hoping that everything will be ok.

    Without a concrete plan to revisit, "loosey goosey" intentions are hard to enforce and all that is left is resentment and anger between parent and child.

  • Don't Put Yourself in an Uncomfortable Situation.
  • Though I was very impressed with the nurse practionier and her demonstration of how easy it is to pee test your child if you think he or she has been using drugs, I question whether a parent really wants to put themselves in that situation. The parent has to be physically present in the bathroom when the child produces the specimen or it can be altered or even substituted for someone else's urine. Because of the personal nature of this, umbrage can easily be formed between you and your child. And, what if your child refuses to oblige or declares that they just went to the bathroom and can't go? What then? Are you going to hang around for a few hours until you can get the specimen?

    If your child knows you have a drug test and that you may test them at anytime that is usually enough to keep them on the straight and narrow. I don't think it serves any purpose to threaten that every time they come back from a party you will test them. The element of surprise or spontaneity is much more effective.

    The same is true for a breathalyzer that detects for alcohol content. Chances are you will be able to smell alcohol on your child's breath and a breathalyzer will not be necessary. This kind of testing is not quite as personal as a urinary specimen, but keep it for the times when you are not quite sure if your child has refrained from drinking or drank too much.

  • Choose Your Coming to the Rescue Thoughtfully
  • I have a client whose child is of driving age and therefore a bit more independent. He told his son that if ever he was too intoxicated to drive home to call him and he would come and pick him up regardless of the hour. His son called a few times and dad stumbled out of bed and drove to rescue his son. He praised him for calling, yet we discussed that to be irresponsible as to get so intoxicated that he couldn't drive home was a safe choice for sure, but since he was being rescued for poor choices and negligent behavior he had an out and therefore a kind of permission to drink until he couldn't function safely. Someone was always there to pick up the pieces. I advised my client that next time he would not come and get him, but that he had the option of sleeping there, using his own money to call a cab and that the perk of having the car to drive to the party was revoked and that he would be dropped off.

    Remember that as parents you can only do so much. All sorts of different challenges are presented to a young adult as it is so often a rite of passage. Thankfully, most kids sail these trials with more experience under their belts that allow them to discern responsible vs. irresponsible behavior.

    As parents, you have to hope that all the years of the trust, love and connection that a family has developed will prevail when difficult choices face our kids. It is important to keep the communication open so they feel that it's ok to come to you with issues, problems or concerns and they won't be punished for it. Just keep your "poop detector" up as you don't want to be played for a chump if they use your good nature and open heart as a ploy in getting a pass for more reckless or out of control behavior.

    If I can be of service, please visit my website and I invite you to explore my new book "Reclaim Your Life -- You and the Alcoholic/Addict" at or on Amazon.

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