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

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fgngn 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?

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

  1. 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.

    • This is exactly what we try to do. Explain the action and the consquences; the choice is theirs.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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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