How are you going to talk about drugs with your kids?

April 20 2011 | offbeatbride
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Photo by Evan, used with Creative Commons license.
Whether or not you've used drugs in the past (or present), most parents and care-givers are going to be faced with this particular flavor of The Talk at some point or another. It's a tricky spot to be in — I personally want to be honest with my son as much as possible, as often as possible. In my mind's eye, I imagine us discussing all kinds of topics… including drug use. If and when he asks if I've done something like smoke pot, I hope I'll be honest with him.

Here's how I think about a drug like marijuana: it can be fun, but it's by no means a path to greater enlightenment. I've known many a person who became quite a mellow and creative person while stoned, but I've also known one too many burnouts. I personally see marijuana as a pretty tame and boring drug: if you smoke it, great. If you don't… you're not missing out on too much.

But how will I explain that to my kid without it sounding like a resounding parental endorsement? Because I'm pretty sure saying something like, "Oh, weed? I've totally smoked it, and it was fun! But, um, you should really try to steer clear of it" isn't going to fly.

I don't want to give Jasper some sort of half-assed "gateway drug" speech (and I don't even really believe in the theory), but I don't want to encourage him to smoke. I know a few people who plan to talk to their kids about pot and keep it in the house — if they want to smoke, they can, as long as they stay home while doing so. I think that's an interesting approach, but I'm not sure it's the best for us. I don't want to lie or mislead him when he asks about my opinions of the drug, but I also don't want to actively encourage him to get stoned.

Since I didn't even touch pot (or alcohol) until I was twenty-one, I'm kind of hoping Jasper will also put off substance use until he's an adult — but I might be trying to Pollyanna my way out of the drug use talk. Monitoring the Future, "an ongoing study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students, college students, and young adults," conducted a survey in 2010 that revealed marijuana use is going up (something like one in sixteen 12th graders smokes daily) among eighth, tenth, and twelfth grade students. The primary reason? Kids see pot as something that's safer than harder drugs.

TELL ME: how are you guys planning to talk to your kids about your past or present drug use? For those of you who have already crossed this threshold: what did and didn't work?

  1. I've got to say drugs and alchohol were a topic my mother handled BRILLIANTLY!. While school and the culture at large seemed to adopt a fear approach, my mom really came from a place that said knowledge and commone sense are the key to just about everything. A lot of the problem with drug education (for example DARE) is that it teaches all that gateway BS and basically says wine equals pot equals heroine and meth. This is not true and I think causes problems when teenagers drink or get stoned and then think that since all things are equal they can shot up heroine.

    My mom, on the other hand, taught my sister and I that there was a difference between smoking a joint and becoming a meth head–she taught us all mind altering substances are not created equal and to use are head when choosing if and what to use.

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    • Oh, I was a star DARE child; I remember the first time I smoked pot I thought the act was pretty much level with selling a kidney to go shoot up. I was so BAD 🙂

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      • Another DARE kid here! All I remember was a psychedelic video of a LSD hallucination with rainbows, ponies and such. At the time all I thought was "cooool!"
        I ended up not trying anything else but pot though, and that was because I hung out with the smokers in high school.
        To me the main thing is get to know your kid's friends, because that's where he/she'll probably start using anything.

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      • In Idaho it's called PAYADA (Parent And Youth Against Drug Abuse), not DARE. My mom sold crack while she was taking me to classes, oddly enough. I think ultimately I'm terrified of this. Groom can remember when GRID didn't exist, and I was born after it was already AIDS. I try to explain it to him.

        Our generation was and is so built on fear. "If you smoke pot, it will lead you to heroin. If you have sex, you will get AIDS, even if you wear a condom. If you use a regular swingset without a belt, you will break your back and be paralyzed for life." I don't want my kids to avoid experiences because they're afraid. I want them to avoid SOME experiences, because they're smart.

        This is a helluva question.

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    • DARE was such a joke. They had me coming home and freaking out that my dad was having wine with dinner. I begged him to stop, convinced he was an alcoholic. :-/

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      • Don't feel to bad. I used to student teach when I was in high school. One of my 2nd graders came to school in tears one day saying that his mother was feeding him drugs for breakfast. After a long discussion with the mother we figured it out. Whoever decided that using eggs in that "this is your brain on drugs" commercial… not a good idea. To him that commercial was explaining that eggs were drugs. Scare tactics never work, they just scare.

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    • Same with my parents. They were pretty appalled by some of the DARE literature we brought home in elementary school. I remember one thing claiming that if you did heroin ONCE you'd be hooked for life. I very clearly remember my mom saying, "I tried heroin once, didn't like it, and never tried it again!" Maybe not the BEST thing to tell a 5th grader haha but overall they gave us a very common sense approach to drugs. It basically boiled down to only try it if you REALLY want to, don't let anyone pressure you into it, know your source, don't overindulge, be in a safe environment EVERY time, and if have any hint of addiction seek help immediately. They also kind of took the fun out of the curiosity factor by telling me every drug they ever did at Dead shows and how they felt lol.

      Fast forward 20 years later and the most I've ever done was smoke a joint in Amsterdam. And that was with my mom haha.

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    • THIS is basically how we plan to approach talking to our sons! Our 2 year old is already well aware what cannabis is, and that is its a medicine and helps SOME not all people feel better……but he's 2 so we've got time 🙂

    • I think this is an excellent answer.

      I think the misconception of how some drugs are the result of just bad training. Police officers only need 80 hours, and teachers need 40. How can be someone be an expert after less than a week or two of training?

      I think kids feel they've been lied to (and not without reason), if they do decide to try marijuana and, surprise, they have no desire to jump off buildings or shoot up heroin.

      Unfortunately, I think they feel if adults were lying to them about pot, then they were lying to them about X, Special K, cocaine, speed or anything else you can think of.

      Of course, these drugs ARE dangerous, but because the kids have been taught that marijuana is as dangerous as Special K, now they question everything they've been lied to about.

      Alcohol I think would be better if you start introducing kids at a decent age (say 14) to wine or champagne on special occasions. I don't mean they need a full glass, but if you're having a nice meal and want to give them a less than half-full glass of white wine to go with the seafood, I think it's a good introduction. Kids drink because of peer pressure and the thrill of drinking, but I think drinking alcohol properly needs to be taught just like everything else.

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      • I agree with this completely. My parents gave me and my brother small quantities of alcohol with dinner or after dinner, supervised and it wasn't a big deal at all. Once I got into high school, I didn't go out and party hardly at all. And even then, and now, I just mostly smoke pot. But smoking pot never lead me to anything else than just more pot. In fact, I smoke more than I ever drink.

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  2. I am really hoping we can find a way to balance honesty and endorsement. For me, it helps to ask myself what is actually concerning to me about the drug in discussion. Why does it worry me that my kids would do a drug I don't find worrisome for my peers, like pot? For pot, I am more worried about effects on the lungs and kids using it as a social crutch, or using it VERY early. Also the worry of getting in trouble with the law and how that can affect their future. Once my kids are college-ish age, I really couldn't care less if they smoke pot. This is sacrilege to a lot of parents I talk to, but I don't see it any different than drinking a beer.

    For most other drugs, including alcohol, I am a lot more pointedly concerned over the physical and mental effects on a young, developing person.

    More than anything, I hope to be able to create the kind of environment where my boys feel like they can talk to me or my husband. Of course this starts with us being able to talk to them frankly and honor their intelligence and curiosity– in this area in many others.

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    • I completely agree. I intend to speak to my kids as intelligent, thinking people on this topic just as on others. Research shows that alcohol and drugs (and even cell phones) likely have more detrimental effects on developing brains than adult brains. I'm hoping that this sort of approach will come off as less condescending than the typical "You're too immature to make these decisions for yourself," tack. Also, I think taking the mystery out of it helps. My dad let me have a small glass of wine with dinner when I was 8-9… euro-style. Consequently, I didn't feel the need to get smashed with high school friends. In fact, the first time I ever got drunk, I was safe at home with my dad at about age 16. Better than at a party with a bunch of dudes I didn't know, in my opinion.

  3. I have had this talk …. a few times. I am nothing but honest with my 12 year old daughter. We talk about what I did and why, and about why she won't have the same challenges and will always have someone to turn to. I am not naive and assume she will try drugs and get blind drunk and throw up everywhere, but she won't be alone doing it and we will get through it. I don't encourage drug use in minors but I am realistic and if the worst thing she does is smoke up or get drunk that lucky me …

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  4. Very good question. I haven't given as much thought to the pot issue. I never smoked it, my husband did but no longer does, we can represent both perspectives. Alcohol worries me more because there is alcoholism on both sides of our family. Our approach is to teach responsibility and moderation, and not denial. Yet, in some cases, denial is necessary for some individuals. Addiction is partly social/psychological, but also partly physiological. So, it is tough. Also, we have mental illness on both sides of our family, and often alcohol and drug use can be self-medication for mental illness issues. I hope we can keep an eye on those types of issues in our child and make sure any drug or alcohol use is not masking deeper problems.

    I reiterate the comments above, I guess — I hope we can create an atmosphere that allows open communication about these issues.

    Can't they stay toddlers forever?! 🙂

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  5. I'm a regular smoker that's coming close to pulling the trigger on the talk. She knows I smoke something….ugh…I'm nervous about it! I don't want her thinking I do hard drugs (I don't even drink outside of beer once in a blue moon) but I don't want her encourged to smoke either.

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  6. This is something I worried about the moment I learned I was pregnant. I'm in recovery from opiate addiction, and active in Narcotics Anonymous. My son has never seen his mother using and hopefully will never have to. Right now he is young enough that I can bring him to meetings with me without worrying about what he is hearing (the good, the bad, the dogma).

    However, the day will come when I need to decide if I want my son to be aware that I am in recovery and be a participant in that part of my life. My husband, who is not in recovery, doesn't want our son anywhere near "those people" but to me they are my lifeline and support system and I am one of "them." (His differing opinions on my friends in recovery who he loves and "those people" are a topic for another day..)

    I haven't quite figured out a plan, but to use a cliche, I'll "take it a day at a time." If I need a meeting and need to bring him with me, he'll go. Since he'll likely be around recovery as he grows up, we probably won't have to have The Talk since he'll see the havoc drugs can wreak upon lives. I do fear that he won't understand anonymity and announce to teachers, friends, and strangers, "My mama's name is XXXXX and she's an addict!" (I have to consciously stop myself from adding that last part when I introduce myself). Mostly, I hope that he knows that I'm human and have made some bad decisions that I hope he'll never make, but I am his mother more than I am anything else and I will be there for him regardless of the decisions HE makes.

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    • Good for you! Keep setting an excellent example for your son! I'm not sure how I would handle the "talk" if I were in your shoes. I don't see a problem with your son going to meetings. I think it's a great dose of reality for him when he hits middle/high school age! Again, keep up the great work!

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    • alateen alateen alateen. yes that's part of alanon sort of but there is nothing in the world quite as wonderful as alateen. He is lucky that he qualifies to go. this can help him understand recovery and anonimity, ect. many groups have kids going younger than teenage. check with the closest group on what age is ok. I thought i knew what one day at a time ment,… then my son arrived.

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    • My husband grew up in NA. He went to meetings with his mom until he got old enough that people started thinking he was in recovery himself (he stopped as a courtesy – apparently one of the first steps is mustering up the courage to introduce yourself to someone else, and he hated having to tell those people "Sorry, I'm actually not in recovery, try again").

      I don't think his NA involvement caused him any problems, unless you count my early preference for going to parties with out him because of just how piercing his disapproving look when I was drinking could be. Of course, since I was drinking under age, I totally deserved it and he's gotten better as we've gotten older. Somewhere around 21 I think he figured out that getting drunk doesn't automatically lead to alcoholism and substance abuse. However, at twenty five he has only just begun to *try* to find alcoholic beverages that he might enjoy drinking occasionally and as for the rest – no way.

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  7. My parents also did a great job with this. My mom sat me down and told me about highschool, the parties she went to and then subsequently the things she missed because of the parties she went to. She also explained to me exactly what some drugs do to you and whats in them and that kind of of grossed me out.
    When it came to pot they were just very honest. "We know some kids do it, and if you feel that you need to try it ok. But please consider waiting until your done with highschool, being a teenager is hard enough without involving this in the mix too. " I think it really helped that they left it up to me.

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  8. My 12 yr old daughter and I just had the drug discussion a few months ago. I absolutely agree with Katie B. and the approach her mother took. I did let her know that I occasionally smoke pot. But that is a decision I made when I was an adult. Pot is not the same as others and my daughter should know that. I do not want my children to try pot, figure it's really not that big of a deal after all and then try something like heroin that will ruin her life. She also knows that I believe marijuana is safer than alcohol. I explained that there are laws set, like being 21 to drink…Part of why they are in place is so that hopefully by then she has seen and heard enough good and true information that she will be in a place to make a good choice and we responsible. Marijuana is now legal for medicinal purposes in out state. Good luck explaining that to your kids if you are dead set against it. A little contradictory maybe? I will continue to talk to her about drugs and also I encourage her to ask questions!! Just because the government says marijuana is bad this is not necessarily true. Just like if her friends say taking a pill is not big deal, this is not necessarily true. Question, question, question…I will always tell my daughter what I believe to be the truth. I also opted for her not to take DARE, as that is my job as a parent, not the schools.

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  9. i have had this plan in my mind for a while now, in case i am still smoking when mini me grows older. i will explain that mommy and daddy smoke pot to relax at the end of the day when all our responsibilities are taken care of. that the worst thing about marijuana is that is illegal, and we don't sell it or grow it and it is used privately in our home. i will tell her that smoking anything in not healthy to do, and that it is an adult decision we have made for ourselves. i will explain that until she is 18 years old her brain and body are still developing and smoking would be detrimental to a child. i will also explain that until she is 18 years old she is our complete legal responsibility and it would be extremely unfair if she was to get into trouble with the law over it. not only would she be in trouble but we would be and we would be paying all court and legal fees.
    by the time we are to have this talk, if all goes according to plan, i will have raised a responsible and respectful being and she will understand and agree with all we tell her. wish me luck!

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    • This is more or less what I plan to do, with the added rule that I don't ever let kiddo see pipes or be around people smoking. I've seen too many toddlers learn that it's "cute" to bring mama a lighter or play "pretend smoking". When he's older (say, teen years, not copy-everything-you-see age) I may relax on that, but for now it's a total no-go for me, and I have had to speak up to enforce that around friends at BBQs and such.

    • Hi there,
      I reallky liked what you said. I wonder if you could tell me if anything has changed since you wrote this? I'm dying to know if you've had 'the talk' or what has happened between you and your mini me?
      I have a 12 yr old son who's becoming increasingly curious why Dad goes out to the garage from late at night.
      I'm struggling to find the right things to say to him why I do smoke weed.
      About me, I did have a bad car accident that beat up my back and forced me to change careers because of it. However, I haven't had to take any time off from work since my career was redirected, my health is pretty good other than a little overweight, earn a comfortable triple digit income annually and still have my normal walking/running daily activities.
      I just really really appreciate how much a couple pipe puffs can almost immediately relax my body and mind at the end of a long day.
      Smoking hasn't slowed down my ambition either as I'm still eager to rise early in the morning at 7am and usually arrive home around 6-10pm, depending on hoiw many appointments I've had for the day. I also rarely drink alcohol unless my wife and I are around her family for weekend, trust me, it's warranted."
      So, now that you know a little bit about me, my question is I've almost been busted a couple of times and I don't know what to do or say? Can you offer any insight?
      Thanks very much,
      Tim

  10. I am a recovering alcoholic/addict, which puts me in the position of having had experience and choosing not to have any more experiences. Talking with my kids about pot is something I think about a lot. Fortunately, my kids being 8 and 1, I think that talk is a bit in the future. I think alcohol is gross and destructive, but my views about pot differ greatly than the views of my peers in the "sober community." I don't buy the gateway BS. I recognize its medical properties. I think it's altogether relatively benign. Not for me, but it doesn't fall into the harmful or evil category for others to do.

    And all this really leads me to… nothing. When I think about what I'm going to end up telling my kids about this stuff, I have no idea what I'm going to say. I'll never be anything but honest with my kids, but as parents I'm sure we all know that honesty can be molded into many forms.

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  11. I worry about having this talk because I never tried any drugs and don't plan on doing any in the future. The attitude of my friends who smoke seems to be along the lines that I am closeminded for choosing not to smoke. Honestly I recognize that it is safer than many things, but (1) I am not comfortable with the fact that it is illegal, and (2) I don't want to inhale smoke into my lungs. It's about as simple as that, but I don't want my kids thinking that I am uncool, or inexperienced, and therefore not listen to me. I don't have the "oh hey I tried it, and this is why you maybe should wait/not do it" experience, and neither does my partner who has also never smoked… which is funny because both of us have parents who never talked to us about drugs. Maybe I'll just hope our kiddos turn out like us. 😉

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    • If your kids won't listen to you because you "aren't experienced", may I suggest enlisting a trusted friend who IS "experienced" to help with that? I think that's probably more likely to have the desired effect than not having the talk and just hoping for the best. There are a lot of things in life I have no experience with and if they come up for us (for instance, being homosexual, having musical talent, or an interest in joining the military) I'll definitely be recruiting friends who HAVE experienced those things to help guide kiddo through them.

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    • Those are exactly the reasons I gave my daughter for not smoking pot. (That, and because it makes people kind of stupid…) They seemed reasonable to her. Those are the reasons she gives to her pothead friends for why she doesn't smoke, and even they seem to accept them.
      The smoke/lungs point is particularly pointy for her, because she has asthma, so that might be a deciding factor, I don't know.

  12. Stephanie, I'm really curious: why did you choose not to experiment with drugs and alcohol until you were 21? I was just discussing this with my husband…how do you raise a child that doesn't WANT to try drugs and alcohol? My son is only three months old but I'm already worried about this. We both started drinking and trying drugs in our early teens and there is addiction on both sides of our family. I want my son to not even feel the need to try drugs and alcohol. Is he genetically predetermined to be an addict like both of us? Can we raise him to feel like he doesn't have to self medicate?

    • You know..I have actually spent some good time thinking about this, because I'm hoping Jasper will also be this way. I think there are a few factors at play: my dad very openly abused alcohol (and we experienced all the negative things that go with it — I won't go into detail, but I'm sure you can imagine), and he also dealt drugs (though I didn't find out until later). I was always VERY against drinking because of him, 100%, so hopefully that's an example neither of of our children will learn from. 🙂

      I was also the oldest of four, and my parents worked out of town most weekends, so I had more responsibility than some, I think. I think this might have factored into it — I'm not trying to say I was a substitute adult for my siblings, but I was in charge a lot of the time, and did spend some time preoccupied with THEM and not myself.

      I hung out with kids at school who were doing drugs and drinking, but none of them (save for a few VERY stoned theatre kids once or twice) ever tried to pressure me into anything.

      The final thing that I think contributed is just my personality. I don't know how to explain it exactly, but drugs and alcohol just didn't appeal to me. I decided to try them when I was 21 just to see what the deal was, and while I did go through a year or so of drinking more than I should have, I've never abused either. And even now, I find drinking and drugs boring — they're something you can do to enhance a fun time, but they're not particularly interesting.

      Neither of my parents ever sat down and had any kind of alcohol or drug discussion with me. To answer your last two questions — alcoholism and drug use ("soft" and "hard) run rampant on both sides of my family. I do think that there is probably something genetic that makes you more likely to develop an addiction if you don't keep yourself in check, but I think I'm also a great example of someone who COULD be hooked on some stuff and blame it on genetics, but I instead…just keep it all in check. I've seen what happens when you abuse substances, and I'm not interested in being that kind of person.

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      • "I've seen what happens when you abuse substances, and I'm not interested in being that kind of person."

        This is what I learned the hard way! I want my son to just take my word for it without having to be around it or experience it himself. Just because I didn't listen to my parents doesn't mean he won't listen to me, right? 🙂

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  13. My mother gave us all the warm, cheap beer and warm wine coolers we wanted- which wasn't much. It wasn't a big deal to us to have the chance to drink. I didn't get drunk until age 31, in fact.

    Mom was honest about her trips, and stingy with our allowences. If we had lit up, it would have taken so much of our money that it wasn't funny. I'm one of the few who haven't smoked pot but am for the legalization of it.

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  14. my children's father is drug addict. addiction of all sorts runs in his family from prescription to alcohol to meth to crack to gambling (huge reason why we have nothing to do with his family or him). i started the conversation NOW, ages 1, 3, 6, 7, and 11 and we talk about it all the time. mostly i bring up the health affects and consequences (could get caught, spend time in jail, have a big fine, become addicted). another thing i do is read books on how to be assertive (one great book i found is "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus") and how to say no (in general, not necessarily to drugs). i tell them that people are going to ask things of them all the time and if they don't want to do something they shouldn't. that when some one asks for something it isn't about the person they are asking, it is about wanting something and trying however which way they can to get it. that giving into requests isn't going to make you liked. i apply this to all situations and drugs. we also act out different situations on what people ask for and how they might ask for it and different ways to turn them down… sometimes my kids are asking and sometimes they are the ones saying no. i let them make up the script to practice for different situations. i am worried that my children will end up on the addiction path because it runs on their dad's side of the family.

    i would wait to tell him you did it until he is older. i would also tell him (when he is older) that you waited until you were an adult and you weren't giving into peer pressure, but wanted to see what it was like and you didn't find it all that exciting. i would wait to express the rest. it is sort of like where do babies come from question. you don't tell it all at once but share bits and pieces as they get older, then when they are old enough you tell them the whole truth. you never lied and you instilled the core belief and added on from there as they became more and more ready for it….

  15. At the ages of 7 & 9, my children have already heard the DARE speeches at school. If I had a glass of wine with dinner, they'd want to know if I was drunk. This has led to some good conversations. We've told them that DARE was designed to scare them into compliance. We would rather that they had the right information. We stick to the basics: these are names of some drugs, these ones are worse than others, most can cause some kind of addiction, whether physical or psychological, or both. My 9 year old asked me the other night if his friends were right when they said that one sip of alcohol would make them alcoholics. I pointed out that he'd had a sip of champangne for new year's and was fine. We even had a family night last weekend, were we bought a bunch of juices, etc. and everyone got to mix their own drinks. they know that only adults are allowed to drink liquor because it's illegal for children and because their bodies aren't ready to handle it. It's an ongoing conversation.

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    • I like the way you handle this. Especially the emphasis on the fact that it's an ongoing conversation, like most things you teach your children. I'll be keeping this approach in mind when the kidlet is older 🙂

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  16. This is a great discussion and I need to finish reading the comments.
    I was trying to think about how MY parents talked to me about it. I know when I was about 12 or so, I knew my mom used to do drugs, she was a hippie in the 60s/70s after all lol but I don't ever remember having a "talk" about it. So strange! My brother had some serious issues with drugs so maybe that just influenced me? I know I was never interested in drugs, even when my best friend smoked pot and I would go with her to buy the pot, I just never wanted any. I did smoke cigarettes for several years and I started way too early. I also drank alcohol in high school but I know my mom was okay with it as long as I was home or with my sister or friend I trusted and knew not to drive. And I don't think that was an issue.
    Not sure how I'll talk to my kids about it yet, obviously be honest about my experience and all that. I don't think it's too big of a deal, as long as it's recreational and doesn't take over your life (said friend is now in her 20s and won't grow up and just smokes all day.). I know my guy has huge issues with drugs so…we'll have to see!
    Good luck to all other mamas!

  17. I'm really nervous about this (and we don't even have kids!) because it was always a non-issue with both my husband and myself. We just never wanted to participate in those things. And now that he's a police officer, our stance is pretty public. However, our kids may not feel the same way. I don't want them to get in trouble, or to become so consumed that they neglect everything else, but as long as they're home and safe and practicing moderation who am I to say no?

    • This is what I worry about!

      I have never tried any pot or any other kind of illicit drug. I'm not a fan of even taking Tylenol either.

      I have never drunk any alcohol.

      Not because of rules. I just have never wanted to. I'm 31 years old and I've never experimented with any drinking, drugs, or partying and I've never had any interest in it.

      I'm afraid that my children (that I don't yet have) will be different from me and won't relate to my experience.

      How can I talk to them about being safe with drugs when I've always been so uncool?

  18. My son is only 8 months old, but it's still something I always wondered how I'd approach the subject. My mom chose to not be honest with us about her past. She always told me she was a virgin until her first marriage and that she had only ever tried one cigarette in high school and never again touched them. When I was about 22, after 4 years of non-virginity, she told me that she actually lost hers when she was 17, and that she had tried pot before. Seemingly silly little things in my now 28 year old mind, but then it was like "how can I trust you? you lied to me and made me feel guilty about losing my virginity!" I personally was in 9th grade when I tried my first drug: acid. So I totally don't believe pot is THE gateway drug. It wasn't until four years later that I even tried pot, and you're right, it's boring. Once a year I have a curiosity to try it again, but I don't and 5 minutes later I've forgotten about it completely. I too want to be honest with my son and I also do not want to come off like it's okay behavior. I can't believe he'll be innocent and pure his entire life, I just have to trust he'll make the right decision, or call me before he makes the wrong decision (as in driving drunk or with someone who's drunk and/or stoned, etc). I have also found that parents who simply say "you've disappointed me" to their child have children who tend not to repeat that particular mistake again because that's much worse than being yelled at. We expect to be yelled at, but disappointed our beloved parents to the point they can't look us in the eye for awhile … that's almost life-ending, I think. Good luck!!

    2 agree
  19. I have wondered about this subject too! My husband and I both smoked pot quite a bit through our teens and twenties although my husband was a heavy user, me less so. I dabbled in a lot more other recreational drugs than he did….mushrooms, acid ect. Neither of us have done anything but drink since we got married as we work and live at a private school and felt it would be hypocritical to do so. But we also have many friends that still smoke and we have no personal problems against it. I don't want to encourage it in my daughter, but also I want to be open and honest about my experiences and let her have hers. My drug use I look back on as mostly ho hum with some occasional really funny, good times. I don't regret it, but I also don't look back wistfully either. I did it and sometimes it was fun and sometimes it wasn't. Most of my really great times didn't include drug use. I think I will just try to give her good information, tell her the truth about how I feel, and let her know I am always a safe ear and a safe person to go to without fear of me freaking out on her. Hopefully I will have raised a good kid who will experiment and live life, but make good, well thought out choices as well. And if she is a bit wild like me….well apples don't fall far from the trees and we will get through it just like my Mum and I did.

    2 agree
  20. Now, I'm still a teen, but maybe I can share how my parents dealt with this.

    Both of my parents don't smoke and only drink the occasional glass of wine or a beer every now and then.
    They are both very well-read people and kind of approached the topic from the factual side, i.e. they told my brother and me what effects drugs have on the body, that they're especially harmful when you're not completely developed yet (did you know your brain isn't completely developed until your mid-20s? amazing!) and they watched some interesting documentaries with us.
    They weren't spreading fear or anything, they just gave us the facts and let us decide what we want to do with that knowledge and whether we want to deal with the consequences.

    One thing that I think is really great is that they basically gave us the resources to inform ourselves (the documentaries and stuff) rather than being like "Oh honey, we are so worried!" and possibly provoking a kind of "Fuck it, I'm gonna rebel!"-reaction.
    (BTW, this is also how my mom informed me about all the "girly issues" like birth control, periods and stuff: She just handed me a couple of brochures she had picked up at her gynaecologists practice and said "You might wanna read these…")

    So my advice is basically this: Be honest and open, maybe talk about your own experiences if you have any and give your kids the resources to inform themselves. It worked very well for my family and allowed me to form my own opinion on the subject.

    5 agree
  21. I don't even really remember my Mother ever giving us a particular drug speech. I don't know. I haven't given that subject much thought yet.. It'll be a while before it's approached. Will I be honest about my drug experiences? Sure, when she's old enough (maybe a young teen). I've experimented with a few and I can honestly say that most of them I am happy it was a 1-2 time thing because they make you feel like crap after you're done feeling good (or weird, whatever). As far as booze goes, I figure I will allow her to try wine when I feel she's old enough (15/16, who knows). I will explain alcholism runs in our family and teach her to be smart about it. With pot I am just going to lump it into the truth – all smoking is disgusting. That's my truth anyway.

  22. I'm really optimistic that we can synthesize the good parts of what both my and my fella's parents did.

    My parents basically left it up to the schools to give me the scary facts and horrific movies about overdosing (which I guess is good for a kid to hear, especially since everyone else does, too), but they shared their opinions drinking and drug use through modeled behavior. Neither of them drank to relax or escape, and they always drank incredibly responsibly when it was part of a social event. I never saw either of my parents DRUNK, and didn't even see them noticeably buzzed until I was in my mid-20's. My mother quit smoking when I was very little, and while she had relatives who smoked, both my parents made it abundantly clear that it was a horrible health choice that could easily be avoided. We didn't spend a lot of time with friends or relatives who smoked in order to avoid second-hand smoke, so I associated even the smell of smoke with bad health. Any other drug use was just completely absent from my life. It wasn't something that anyone we spent time with made positive reference to, so I had no reason to think it was a good idea. When confronted with the opportunity to use drugs in high school and college, I had so many other things that I already enjoyed doing that I didn't really see the point. When I met my future husband, we started to smoke occasionally, but it is so casual and rare that I don't even really consider it a habit.

    His family took a very different approach. He was raised hearing how AWFUL drugs and alcohol were from school, family, friends, church…basically every possible angle. His grandfather died of liver disease caused by a lifetime of alcoholism, and while other family members did drink casually, that was A GROWN-UP THING. I totally disagree with this approach, especially since drugs were similarly stigmatized despite his parents smoking pot – regularly – through his childhood. Here's where I think they got it right: they had promised each other that they would never lie about their drug use if they were directly questioned. When he was in his late teens, he asked if they had ever smoked pot, and was told not only that they had, but that there was pot in the house. A shared joint later, they were laughing about a lifetime of sneaking around behind kids' backs. This – again – might sound dubious, but it turned drugs from something taboo to an utterly mundane, boring thing. He has never abused or overused anything, and we now share a very responsible and sparse enjoyment of substances we know we can consume safely.

    When it comes up with kids, I want to take my parents' open positive modeling (though I don't think we'll ever just casually toke up while the kids are watching Sesame Street; that just feels wrong) and combine it with his parents' ultimate honesty (not the early concealment, though) so our kids know that we believe this: alcohol and drugs are only fun and safe if you are using them responsibly, in moderation, and in an environment that is nurturing and filled with people who care about you. I know our kids will experiment, so we're going to do everything we can to see that they do it in the least stupid way possible, and so they develop a healthy perspective to last their lifetimes.

    1 agrees
  23. I'm almost 24 and have never used illegal drugs. I don't smoke and I drink sparingly. But I have admit, I have trouble taking prescription medication even if I needed to take them. My mother, from the age of 12, and now at the age of 45, still uses every drug she can get her hands on, and has been calling me to drive her home from the bar since I could drive. She was very honest about how they have ruined her life, how much money they suck up, and I have dealt with the abusive side of it first hand. I was never curious because I lived that experience 2nd-hand.

    I hope I could share that knowledge with my kids someday. But in the end it really is their choice.

  24. I worry about this same thing! I did drink while in high school, but I am in my twenties now I have never been drunk. I am hoping that my parent's method of "drinking is okay, but people who get drunk are idiots" works on my kids like it worked on me. They never said that, but it was one of those unspoken impressions I got. We would sometimes have wine with dinner, or whatever else. We just were always taught about moderation.

    Drugs, on the other hand, particularily pot, are going to be a big issue for me. I can't be all nonchalant about it like I am alcohol. I have never tried any drugs, and I have known way too many people who have said, "Pot isn't dangerous, it doesn't do anything to you!" who are complete idiots when they are high. They just don't realize it. Now this is going to sound super judgmental, but I have always had the opinion that people who need pot, alcohol or anything else to have fun are boring or unintelligent people. There are so many ways to have fun without those things!

    That said, I KNOW that attitude will just cause a kid to go running right to those things when they hit the rebellious stage. However, I don't want to "fake" acceptance so that they have nothing to rebel against. It is so hard to find a balance!

    1 agrees
    • The thing is thing is that drugs DO make people act stupid. (That said from somebody who was a classic binge drinker from the age of twelve into my early twenties. I've seen, and done, more than my fair share of really idiotic things – not even dangerous idiotic, just STUPID.)
      The fact that they make people act stupid, including illustrations of said stupid behaviour, is a key reason I've given my daughter not to do them. Teenagers might have a sneaking desire to engage in dangerous and forbidden activities, but they don't want to be the butt of other people's jokes.

      2 agree
  25. My parents were Deadheads, and they just talked a lot about their times touring the southwest in a VW van. After that, smoking pot seemed much more lame than intriguing.

    My dad talked a lot with me about substance use and abuse, and my parents both offered me alcohol pretty regularly from my teenage years on. They sort of positioned themselves as the slightly countercultural representatives of responsible substance use, which really took away the appeal. I started drinking very slowly and cautiously around family and got a good sense of alcohol's effects on me in safe environments. I now drink fairly regularly but quite moderately, so I'd say their approach worked pretty well.

    3 agree
  26. I'm amused at having found this post today, because I just happened to have my first drugs talk with my kids yesterday, after one of them found a syringe in a park we were playing in. My girls are only seven (twins), so the talk was not difficult. Definitely not as difficult as the same talk will be in a few years.
    I'm still trying to figure out some parts of my strategy for talking to my kids about drugs, but there are a couple parts I have decided pretty firmly on. One, others have already touched on, and that is that I plan to have honest, respectful conversation about what drugs can and cannot do to you. The reasons people do them and the risks, but none of the scare tactics. (In my experience, scare tactics totally backfire here.)
    The other part of my strategy I'm set on is this: It will be against my house/family rules for anyone in my care under the age of 18 to use illegal drugs. Sounds simple, boring even, but I think there's some hidden beauty in this part of my plan. For one thing, it requires no judgment on my part, of people who use drugs or even of drugs themselves. In my opinion, as I will flat out tell me kids, drugs are things that adults can make their own choices about. Maybe drugs aren't bad or good, but they do involve risks. When you are legally an adult, those risks are yours to take. When you are legally my responsibility, I am required by law to make this decision for you. (Don't blame me, blame the Man!)
    I personally believe that drugs should be decriminalized, that addiction should be treated not punished, and that adults should be allowed to do whatever they want to their own bodies. But I really do feel like it's my responsibility to send my kids a crystal clear message that I cannot allow them to try drugs on my watch. Do I fool myself into thinking they'll never break my rules? Hell no. But that doesn't mean the rule is any less important. My kids get to make their own choices about which rules they'll follow. That's their job, as kids. I get to make the consequences if they break my rules. That's my job as a parent.
    I'm looking forward to watching my kids grow into adults capable of making their own choices, whether they choose to use drugs or not. I just want to give them the time they need to be children now, and hopefully the values, self-respect and sound judgment needed to make good choices as adults, about drugs, about everything.

    3 agree
  27. I'm intrigued by how many mamas currently do drugs, smoke cigarettes or drink but who want to find ways to stop their kids doing it. What's the reason behind that? Not meant to be judgemental, I'm genuinely curious.

  28. This is one of the trickiest issues I think I'll face with kids. I have bipolar I disorder, I was diagnosed 9 years ago. My boyfriend has always been open about having DPD (depressive personality disorder) and generalized anxiety disorder. We know that we want children at some point. We are also very aware that any children we have will be be born genetically predisposed to mental illness.

    I never used drugs of any variety in my lifetime (I don't think I've consumed caffeine in the last 10 years!). My boyfrient tried self-medicating with various substances before and it did more harm than good. Here's the big rub though… People like me, who has dispositions towards mania and possibly psychosis, have to be careful. The THC in pot has a strong tendency to induce a break from reality if your already prone to such episodes. Even though it might not be the most realistic option, we've decided to tell our children that for them, because of their genetic predisposition to the illnesses we have, no drug use is acceptable for them or in our house. It'll involve us being honest about our mental health and also letting them know that they are at risk for this stuff too. It's a special challenge that comes with a territory, I guess, when mentally ill people want to start families.

    • I have bipolar disorder as well, and I also have a 15 year old daughter. As well as the mental ill health issue, three of her grandparents were/are alcoholics – another genetic predisposition to be aware of.

      Honesty isn't the cure-all answer, but it's a start.
      You don't want to scare your kids into thinking that they're 'doomed' to mental illness, but it seems reasonable to make them aware at some point that their brains might not have the normal reaction to drugs. I'm even careful with prescription drugs, because I have an atypical reaction to a lot of those.

  29. Adding a Dutch perspective to the discussion
    (a country where pot and alcohol (beer/wine, but not whiskey/liquor/high % drinks) are legal from age 16):
    I rememeber drugs education from school and my parents:
    – In school we got honest information: what is drugs, what does it to you, difference between pot/ hard drugs, why there is a difference, health effects. The general philosophy is that keeping things out in the open prevents worse stuff and unwanted side effects. Focus was on making informed choices. (We have the same approach to sex ed.)
    – My parents made it clear they detested smoking, for health reasons and sports. Drugs, well, was not good. They talked about why we would want to use it and discussed whether these were good reasons.

    I guess I was a very complying kid, so I never even smoked a cigarette. I was never interested and thought smoking STINKS.
    In high school we had international students exchanges and I found it very weird that those kids wanted to smoke pot so badly now it was legal. For us, there was no mystery, if you wanted to smoke, you'd go to the store and get it. Why get so worked up about it? My husband has smoked pot in high school and stopped when he got other friends who didn't. Plus smoking pot really gets to your brain if you do it too much, so when trying to get a college degree it is not very helpful.

    Alcohol (from the comments I think it is regarded a drug?) is/was a different matter entirely. We do drink alcohol, almost everybody I know drinks alcohol and I do not know (consciously) any alcoholics. In Europe, it is a very social thing. College students do drink a lot, but they quit when they start having jobs and having to get out of bed in the morning :). Drinking wine at dinner is… I don't know, I wouldn't call it drug use. My first sip of alcohol was around 10 years old (didn't like it). Moderation is key and red wine is healty for you, isn't it? 😉 And what is better than a cool beer on a hot summer day?

    2 agree
  30. So – for me it comes down to this. Pot is not okay for kids and young people because it teaches them that being bored is perfectly acceptable, even fun. Yes – some people DO get creative on weed, but most people just FEEL creative and sit around and do nothing.
    And it's okay. I smoke occasionally, but I didn't start until I was 18.
    As for how to explain this to my daughter, I'm hoping she'll be active enough (doing anything) that she won't have time or feel the need to smoke. But if she does, I'm hoping I'm the kind of mom she'd feel comfortable talking to about it.

    • that's a really interesting take – as someone who's never smoked, but doesn't have any beef with pot my main issue has always been that normally awesome people become really effing boring when they're high.

      1 agrees
  31. I'd also like to mention that the age at which to start these conversations is younger than you think. If they are old enough to ask for a sip of your drink, then they are old enough to get a simple version (ie your body is young and not ready for it). If they are in school, then I think they are ready for a more detailed talk (around 5 or 6 yo). When they ask you questions that are a bit more complex (will one sip make me an alcoholic?), don't forgot to ask their opinion, what do they think and see what their answer is. They may have reasoned out more than you know. Plus this gets them thinking about rather than just looking for yes or no answers.

  32. My mom and dad never did drugs, so they took the "never do drugs" approach.

    Results- my brother became an all-out stoner, and I like to smoke pot occasionally.

    My fiance's parents told him the truth- that they liked to smoke pot when they were younger and that his dad was straight from the '60s hippie who did it all.

    Results – one child who never has or ever will do drugs. One child who has tried a little bit of everything, but is currently clean. One child who likes to smoke pot occasionally.

    So I don't necessarily think it's about the parental approach. I think the majority of people are going to smoke pot at least once (especially if they go to college). As far as the rest of it, just hope your kids make the right decisions when they have the freedom to do so.

  33. i'm all for the honesty approach, and certainly don't support the fear-mongering that most of us seem to have grown up with (at least at school, if not at home). in the interest of honesty and informed decisions i'm surprised that no one has mentioned legality.

    i don't have kids, but i can't help but think that i would be a *lot* more upset with the prospect of them going to jail than of them smoking out. i am consistently amazed by the number of people who have no concept of just how major drug charges can be – even for pot, even for amounts that most people would consider "personal use." the law will call you a dealer at very small quantities, and mandatory sentencing for drugs makes it really, really no joke. so, yeah, i will probably bring up jail and prosecutions when i have this talk with my kids. the fact that drug laws in this country are totally idiotic does not make them any less relevant. and i guess some folks might view my take as fear-mongering, but conveying scary facts in an honest way is really not the same.

    • I totally agree with this. And I don't think it's fear-mongering at all to warn kids (or adults for that matter) that even if you're using an illegal drug safely and responsibly, you're risking legal consequences that could haunt you for years to come, maybe even the rest of your life. It is scary, but it's a fact.

      1 agrees
  34. If my upbringing is any indication, the best way to keep your kids from doing drugs in high school is to tell them it's ok if they do. My parents always told me I could try drugs if I wanted — but I needed to do them at home with them, so that I would be safe.

    Of course, as a rebellious teen, I was like PSHAW, why would I want to SMOKE POT LIKE BORING OLD HIPPIES!? I was a total clean jean. I tried drinking with my 2 BFFs … at a slumber party our parents organized. I was all, "Alcohol is DUMB. Pot is STUPID."

    That lasted until I was in college (when I changed my mind on both accounts) but open, accepting parents + my own rebellious nature = very clean and sober teen years for me.

    3 agree
  35. This is a great discussion – thanks OBM!

    Although my husband and I are not ready to start a family, we have been talking about our parenting philosophies, and this came up the other night… we are both regular smokers, so have been wondering how best to approach this.
    In terms of how our parents handled 'the talk', we couldn't be more different. His parents let him smoke at home/throw parties etc, while my parents were very much of the mind that 'all drugs are bad, and if you do them, you'll get on heroin and die'. This did not help. I rebelled, started smoking pot around 15, trying mdma and acid at 16/17, and developing a speed habit by the time I was 18. Husband was much more measured in response to his upbringing – not taking anything 'harder' till his early 20s.

    While both my husband and I still take mdma and/or acid at festivals (so that's maybe 4 times a year), I haven't touched speed in 4 years, and I've never been a big drinker.
    I think our approach will be to educate our children on the pros and cons of ALL drugs. I would like to be the kind of parent that encourages responsible use (if they want to use at all) – I'll definitely be taking the harm minimisation approach. I kind of hope that they'll be of the opinion that if your parents do/have done drugs, then it'll be boring. The only things I hope they never try? Opiates, amphetamines and tobacco.

  36. my parents were honest that they had both smoked pot when they were young, but it wasn't something to get excited about. they urged me to wait until i was an adult to try anything. i did after i was 18. my parents knew what i was doing when i would go out, i'd even tell them "yeah im going to go drink a little and get high." they wouldnt yell or urge me to stay home, they would simply ask exactly where i was going to be and if i needed a ride, felt sick or needed them for anything to call them and they would come get me. i actually did that on a few occasions. they never lectured me, they were just thankful i trusted them to be honest enough to ask for help. albeit i shouldnt have done cocaine at all and they weren't happy about that. i guess their attitude was as long as i don't get addicted to anything or try any really hard drugs (like meth or heroine) then trying something new isn't such a bad thing. i am going to have the same attitude with my children.

  37. I am a DARE graduate!

    To quote Stephanie "Alcoholism and drug use run rampant on both sides of my family. I do think that there is probably something genetic that makes you more likely to develop an addiction if you don't keep yourself in check, but I think I'm also a great example of someone who COULD be hooked on some stuff and blame it on genetics, but I instead…just keep it all in check. I've seen what happens when you abuse substances, and I'm not interested in being that kind of person."
    She said it way better than I could have said it myself

    My parents never had the drug talk with me, My mother has swore up and down that she has never touched drugs but I know that she has ( my aunt told me) My Dad has been very honest about his experience with substance but only as I have been an adult. I hung out with kids in high school who were doing drugs and drinking, but none of them ever tried to pressure me into anything. While I did go through a period of drinking more than I should have, faster than I should have, I was 23 at that time. I have never done any drugs.

    My husband grew up as the child of an addict, he has a completely different perspective than I do. He drank and tried drugs much younger than I did. ( I didn't drink until I was 21) As a result of his experiences he chooses not to drink anymore. He just finds it to be "stupid". When talking to our future children I want to make it a on-going conversation, I want to be honest and informative. And I admire those families that have tackled this issue.

  38. My folks were very honest about their own experience with drugs- the good and the bad- and since they came out of "The Sixties" it was a fair amount of experience. HOWEVER, since they are in the business of mental health, I also ended up learning all about the how the drugs work, and what the side effects and dangers are. I was also given an assignment by them to look up the legal ramifications of getting caught with various substances (this was clever, it makes more of an impact when you have to dig it out for yourself). So while I did engage in my own experimentation, I was probably the most cautious explorer in my set. I'll probably take a similar tactic with my own daughter, although I will have a lot less personal experience to share.

  39. I enjoy alcohol, but somehow I never got around to trying street drugs, so my approach towards marijuana (for instance) is going to be rather clinical instead of anecdotal.

    Marijuana causes permanent brain damage. People who admit to marijuana use consistently have inferior short-term recall to people who do not. The heavier usage a person admits to, the worse the damage, but even light users show some damage. Also, being caught with marijuana can seriously damage or ruin your life, especially if you’re an African-American. Marijuana use in the teen years is correlated with schizophrenia (scary stuff!), and heavier usage is correlated with earlier onset of schizophrenia, but the causal direction is unclear. While under the influence, users are physically and mentally impaired, but are more likely to know that they are physically impaired (and, therefore, less likely to drive) than people under than influence of alcohol.

    So, my advice for my kids and their friends will be: Don’t use marijuana until you’re 21. This is especially true if you have a family history of schizophrenia. Don’t use it heavily. Don’t use it around people you don’t trust. Don’t buy it from people you don’t know intimately. Only buy in very small quantities. Only buy ethically-sourced pot (you don't want to be funding the monsters who are tearing apart Juarez). Don’t use it at all if you’re African-American (racism is real; don’t become a statistic). Call me any time you feel unsafe or need help. I guess that’s about it.

  40. I was an uber DARE kid and ate that stuff up like no one's business. At age 14 though, I had my Angela Chase-style turnaround and dyed my hair, started hanging out with the stoners, and my DARE brainwashing went up in smoke (pun totally intended).

    I was, however, also a totally nerdy honors student and made it my personal creedo to "only smoke pot in the summer" because I thought that was very responsible and wouldn't get in the way of my studying. Oh, and I refused to let my friends photograph me drinking alcohol or smoking pot when I was under 18 because I figured I might be famous one day and wouldn't want to photos to be used against me. Good lord.

    Anyway, my parents were pretty matter of fact about it. They're both doctors of psychology and my dad was a total Esalen hippie in the 60's, teaching classes there. I remember him saying, "Meth? I tried that. It sucked coming down and you'll feel like crap. Don't do that." And I followed his advice.

  41. You already said you don't agree with the method, but I plan on doing exactly what my parents did: you can do what ever you want as long as it's in the house so you don't get arrested. Sex, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes? What ever, just don't get in trouble with it, do it here where you're safe. Because they gave me that trust, I never once felt tempted to do anything because I wanted that trust to be kept and earned and I never wanted to give them a reason to worry. My mother was honest with me when I was young telling me she drank heavily at a young age, did multiple different drugs, had sex, smoked cigarettes, pretty much everything her (very staunch) catholic parents would have died if they'd found out she did. My dad was honest with me that he'd never done any drugs, never had smoked cigarettes, didn't have sex until he was engaged, and only drank once he was in college. I feel like since they gave me the option of doing all of the "bad" things and trusted me to make my own decisions, I never felt the urge to do any of it.

  42. You know… this reminds me of the awesome way my parents handled The Alcohol Talk with me. We had this cabinet for strong booze (spirits, mostly) which was locked until we were old enough (my older brother and I) to understand things

    Me: What's that? *points at booze cabinet*
    Them: It's the alcohol cabinet.
    Me: Alcohol?

    A quick discussion of what alcohol is ensues and how we are NOT to touch it without asking and even then, we ALWAYS drink it under their supervision, and we ALWAYS ASK. If happen, we STOP and TELL A GROWN-UP IMMEDIATELY. But they also said about the positive benefits alcohol can have. This balanced view meant the conversation ended like this:

    Me: Like medicine?
    Them: Yes.
    Me: Oh.

    Me: Can I go play now?

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