How Should Parents Talk to Their Children About Drugs?

How Should Parents Talk to Their Children About Drugs?

Have your parents ever talked to you about drugs? What did they say? What questions did they ask? Who initiated the conversation? Were the discussions helpful? Welcomed? Embarrassing? Enlightening?

In “How to Talk to Your Kids About Drugs When Everyone Is Doing Them,” David Hochman writes:

The assignment was to write a four-page research paper on any biology topic. My son, Sebastian, is a high school freshman, and it was his first real chance to shine. I expected him to pick something like photosynthesis. He went with psychedelic drugs instead.

Let me tell you what would have happened if I had made that choice as a ninth-grader: I would have been grounded until graduation. In northeastern Pennsylvania, where I grew up, my mother worked for the county commission on drug and alcohol abuse, and she could literally smell stoned people. The breath of a pothead, she warned, as if hunting dragons, has the odorousness of burned rope.

One night she shook me awake after finding a tiny tube of Krazy Glue under the seats of her Buick Skyhawk.

“Are you sniffing this stuff to get high?” she said.

I wasn’t. I didn’t even know that was a thing. I cried.

In my mom’s defense, the narc approach was more common back then. In 1984, when I was in high school, Nancy Reagan first uttered the phrase “Just say no” after a student asked what to do if friends offered her funny cigarettes. Later, the public ad campaign “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” made us believe our teenage minds would be fried — sunny side up — if we even thought about weed.

The article continues:

My struggle is to update the proactive messaging for the age of the legal buzz. I don’t care that every other billboard in Los Angeles makes casual drug use look as harmless as hailing a Lyft; I don’t want my child messing with his still-developing brain and body. I don’t want him self-medicating to escape. I definitely don’t want him Juuling, snorting, dosing or dabbing while driving. I also don’t want to wait until his grades tank, and I catch him gorging on raw cookie dough and “Dark Side of the Moon” before stepping in. (I know this makes me sound very old-fashioned.)

That’s why I created “prehab.”

If rehab is a way to recover from drug addiction, prehab is a program designed (by me, at least) to avert the whole mess in the first place. It’s like pulling a Marty McFly with your future party self, pre-empting poor decisions way before you’re drunk texting your ex and sleeping through Mondays. So I enrolled Sebastian as the test case.

Eventually the author comes to question his prehab creation:

I made a dad joke about not lighting up, but Sebastian wasn’t laughing. He looked at me and said, “I actually understand everything you’re telling me. If it makes any difference to you, I’m not really interested in trying drugs. But that could change someday. I really don’t know. For now, can we be done talking about this?”

It hit me in that moment that Sebastian wasn’t the one needing prehab. I was. I’d been so focused on finding the formula for guiding him down the right path that I forgot that he’s the only one who can make these decisions. My task isn’t to steer him around every bong and backyard keg gathering for the rest of his childhood. It’s to be there for him, to set basic guidelines. I also want to support him in figuring out what he truly enjoys, what he dreams about for his future, what he needs more of — and less of — from me. I’d do anything to help him make the most of this one shot he’s got.

Above all, prehab is about letting go. I can talk to Sebastian about drugs until the psychedelic cows come home but I can’t control his future, and why would I want to? Even if he ends up experimenting, I need to have the faith that he’ll be fine. Would it have done John Lennon’s father any good to worry about his kid’s toking habits? Would I be typing on this Apple computer if Steve Jobs just said no to LSD?

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

— How should parents talk to their children about drugs, alcohol and tobacco? What do you think are the most and least effective ways parents can talk to their children about this issue? Why?

— How have your parents talked to you about drugs? Were these conversations effective or helpful? How open and honest were they? Did your parents take the “narc approach” Mr. Hochman ascribes to his mother? Or did they try more of the “prehab” approach Mr. Hochman used with his son?

— Do you feel comfortable turning to your parents with questions about drugs, alcohol and tobacco? Do you think it is easier to talk to parents about drugs now versus when your parents were growing up?

— What conversation do you wish you could have with your parents about drugs?

— What do you think of Mr. Hochman’s advice to parents? Do you think parents need to let go and have faith that their children will be fine? Or do they need to provide direct teaching, guidance and rules around drugs?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.