We want to protect our children from danger, but what steps will you take to prevent addiction?
It's so hard to talk to children about addiction, but it is a topic simply too important to ignore. We shouldn't have to worry about something so dreadful threatening our precious kiddos during the most joyous and innocent times of their lives ... but we must.
The culture of our young people, starting with pre-teens, is so accepting of chemical abuse that every child is at risk, no matter how good you are as a parent.
As a parent, one of the most important jobs we have is to protect our kids from danger and harm. When they are toddlers, we put door locks on the door and safety plugs into the outlets. We enroll them in soccer and t-ball, and inform them about stranger danger. With squinty, watchful eyes, we scrutinize other kids to make sure their bad behavior doesn't rub off on our precious darlings.
We proudly admit to being over-protective because we don't our babies to get hurt.
But then the babies grow into adolescents, and even though they act a little crazy, we feel like we can relax some. They don't need us there every minute, or to watch their every move, because they can handle a lot of things on their own. Ahhh, freedom.
You're right, they don't need you there every minute helping them with every little problem, but they are still at risk. Make no mistake, they still need you to protect them, especially these days.
Today's teen culture is very accepting of chemical use of all kinds. Alcohol and marijuana are still very common and very accessible, but there are many other ways kids are getting high. Meth is still around; heroin has become strangely popular; addicts abuse pharmaceuticals every day, including their own prescribed medications; concoctions of pills and other substances get mixed together like a chemistry experiment; kids even view something called "whip-its" as fun and harmless. It seems like nothing is off limits.
It's not just the "bad" kids that are experimenting; kids of all types and backgrounds are experimenting. Drugs, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, and other chemicals are an easy way to gain acceptance and belonging, so it's very tempting. Kids want, and need, to feel accepted by their peers.
That is normal adolescent behavior. Normal behavior that just adds to the risk and temptation.
Your kids need you to help them understand how devastating experimentation with drugs or alcohol can become, and that experimentation can lead to a serious addiction.
Don't be afraid of being honest. Tell them how important they are to you, and how it would break your heart if something happened to them. Share your feelings, and possibility your own experiences (but be age appropriate—speaking with an eight-year-old is very different from with a fifteen-year-old).
Start the conversation when they are young, and continue talking about it as your child grows and matures. One of the most important things you can do for, and with, your child is to talk with them. Communication is one of the joys of being human, so talk with your child every day.
Take a deep breath, because this next point will be hard for you to read.
Because of the easy access and alarming rate of drug and alcohol use among our young people, the following suggestion is strongly recommended: drug test your child.
Start talking about drug testing in elementary school—again, being age appropriate—then begin actual drug testing by middle school. I hear you groaning, but hang on, there's more to this than just a pee-in-the-cup strategy.
Read this very carefully: if your child knows you will be drug testing them, they have a perfect excuse NOT to do drugs!
Read that again. If they know they will get in big trouble if they fail a drug test, they will think twice before taking that first drink or puff. In other words, they can tell their friends, "I can't do drugs! My parents do drug tests and I'll get my phone taken away!" They can blame YOU!
Get it? You give them a reason to say "NO" that saves face with their friends. You are a hero! You saved them from embarrassment and having to make a very hard decision, but you did more than that.
You have reduced the risk of addiction, which starts with the very first, "Yes." "Yes, I'll try it," "Yes, I'll smoke a joint with you," "Yes, I know it'll make me feel good," "Yes, what can happen?" It only takes once.
Protecting your child is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. Talking about drug/alcohol use is tough, but it can save lives. I can guarantee it's much easier than talking about rehab ... or death. Prevention starts early.
Tina Johnston, Director, NewStarts Counseling & Education Services