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June 1, 2020
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How to Talk with Your Kids About Drugs

Children require guidance as they make their way through the confusing, and at times dangerous, world. There is perhaps no subject they need more guidance on than drugs, which are a perplexing mish-mash of plants, chemicals, medicines and narcotics that could potentially kill them.

With so much contradictory information out there, it’s best to broach the subject of drugs with your children yourself so you can have some influence on their decisions down the road. You also want to establish that it is a subject they can talk about with you.

As long as you handle it with care, talking about drugs with your children need not be an uncomfortable experience. It can be incredibly rewarding to establish yourself as a source of reliable information and support for your kids as they navigate the world and encounter these substances.

This is a guide for Asian parents about effectively talking with their children about drugs. Obviously drugs can be a controversial subject, especially in cultures with a zerotolerance mindset about illicit drug use where the death penalty is used to dissuade people from doing them. But, regardless of culture or religious beliefs, it is a good idea to open a dialogue with your kids about drugs and their impact.

Start early

When we say the word “drugs,” most people conjure up images of joints or lines of cocaine or syringes filled with dark liquids, but it’s important to remember that medications are also drugs. That means when you are giving your preschooler a spoonful of cold medication, you can introduce the subject of drugs, explaining to them that the medication you are giving them is a good drug that will help them get better and it is only to be used when they are sick.

Because young children are especially open to their parents’ influence, it is a good idea to take advantage of
teachable moments at this stage, like when you see a character on television smoking, for example. You can tell your child what the drug is, why the person is doing it and
what it does to their body and mind.

There is no need to try and scare them or make your tone ominous. Stay calm and use words your youngster will understand and be factual rather than making up wild stories. The truth about drug abuse is often scarier than anything you could make up.

Prepare yourself with research

This is especially important when your child gets older and is capable of reasoning and doing their own research on a subject. You don’t want to enter into a conversation with them only to find out that they know more about the subject than you. Read up about any drugs that you are concerned about and get your information from reputable sources. This usually means government run or medical websites and books. Be discerning about where you get your information from.

While you don’t need to know everything about every drug, it pays to be informed about new drugs that are being abused, possible street names for drugs and what drugs are prevalent in your area.

Listen to them

As your kids get older, it’s crucial to have conversations rather than lectures. You’re not talking to your kids or at them, you’re talking with them and that means listening to their viewpoints and answering their questions with honesty. Use open ended questions to gauge what they’ve heard about drugs and to find out what they think about them.

And then listen.

Refrain from making judgements or trying to “correct” them if they say something you don’t agree with. Remember that it is dialogue you’re going for. You’re not probing them for information, you’re just trying to get them to understand that you are someone they can talk with about this subject.

Also accept that when you bring up the subject, it won’t always lead to a discussion. But, at least your kids will know that you are open to talking about drugs and they will feel more comfortable when the time comes to have a discussion.

Avoid making drugs a “bogeyman”

It used to be common to try and scare children away from drugs, telling them that smoking even one joint could eventually lead them down a path that would end with them dying in a gutter from a heroin overdose. However, these scare tactics backfired because teenagers are likely to know some peers who use cannabis or other “softer” drugs (basically meaning non-lethal) like so-called “magic mushrooms” with little to no negative affect. This can lead kids to think their parents are lying to them about drugs, which is the exact opposite outcome that you want.

Rather, be realistic about drug use and be honest about your own drug use (yes, that includes alcohol). Experimentation is natural for children and while you don’t want to encourage experimentation with drugs, trying to scare them with fictional tales will only show them you are approaching the subject from a point of dishonesty. Again, drugs are scary enough on their own. They don’t need embellishment.

Don’t forget to include all drugs in your discussions with your kids. Nicotine and alcohol are just as much drugs as are cocaine and methamphetamine. And prescription drugs are especially important to address because many young people believe medications are safe to abuse simply because they are used as medicine. With ever more potent opioids being developed and used all the time, it is crucial to include medications in your discussions and let your kids know that medications can be even more dangerous than illicit drugs.

Get personal

Laying solid groundwork when they are young will open upthe possibility of talking more in-depth about their liveswhen they are older. If you show them you are open todiscussing the subject in a non-judgmental way early on,you can start to probe for more details about their ownexperiences with drugs when they are teenagers.

You can ask what drugs they have seen, what drugs they’ve thought about using and have used. You’ll be ableto ascertain whether their group of peers is being a bad influence on them.

Take action

Ultimately, what action you take will depend on your familyand your living situation. One thing you can do is try tocreate a verbal or written contract with your children aboutdrug use. As part of that agreement, both you and yourchildren will have to make it work. While your child willobviously be expected to turn down any drugs offered tothem, you will also have to give something in return. Thiscould be no-questions rides at any time (especially late atnight) if they require one. It could be a guarantee that youwill not judge them or their actions if they talk with youabout their experiences with drugs. Do what you need todo to keep the lines of communication open with thembecause that is always better than having them closedown.

You have to play an active role in helping your children tounderstand the dangers of drug abuse and ultimately keepthem away from these dangerous substances and usemedications only in their prescribed manner. Part of thatactivity is talking, but also listening and offering rides anddoing whatever else you need to in order to keep your kidsfrom going down the path of abuse.

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