‘At the opening night for Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes”, in which she starred, Tallulah Bankhead got into an argument with the writer, Dashiell Hammett. Hammett, commenting on her addiction to cocaine, told her that he didn’t much like people who took drugs. Tallulah retorted, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I tell you cocaine isn’t habit-forming and I know because I’ve been taking it for years.”‘
Drugs and alcohol is a very tender topic, so you need to be supportive when talking about it, but the possible consequences of drinking and taking drugs are far too dire to ignore. So even though you might stumble and falter, the stakes are too high for you to remain silent.
Communicating your beliefs and values about drugs and alcohol gives your children a set of guidelines and limits to help them make healthy decisions. One big talk (like the “birds and bees” lecture) is not the route to follow; you can find many opportunities to introduce your opinions, beliefs, and questions. TV shows, news reports, movies, and newspaper stories are good starting points for a conversation.
Discussions about these issues should begin in early childhood, long before the teenage years. Adolescence is actually the worst time to begin talking to kids about drugs and alcohol; teenagers are the most likely to reject their parent’s advice and to be influenced by their friends.
Why do they do it?
Why did you drink, smoke, or take illegal drugs as a teenager? Was it peer pressure? Curiosity? Or did you just want to feel happier and better about yourself? Your child’s reasons are probably the same.
The majority of teenagers take drugs or drink not because they are clinically depressed. They do it because it gives them pleasure, like drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, drinking liquor, and taking drugs gives adults pleasure.
Just say no!
“Just say no” is absurd advice to give teenagers when it comes to drugs and alcohol. It grossly simplifies a very complex issue; it insults the kids it purports to help. It’s part of an adult mindset which takes a very stereotypical view that good kids don’t take drugs or drink alcohol; good kids know these substances are bad, this is not true at all.
Taking drugs or drinking alcohol has nothing to do with your teenagers being good or bad kids. It’s got everything to do with the allure of experimenting with forbidden substances that entail pleasure, status, and acceptance in your peer group.
You can prohibit your teenagers from drinking or taking drugs but that does not necessarily mean you can prevent it. This does not mean that you should casually accept your child’s alcohol and drug experimentation. Your biggest concern should be the prevention of invariable use and addiction with dangerous substances like heroin and cocaine.
Following your example
What your kids need to see most of all is you setting a good example. Sacrificing things like your morning coffee, your after-dinner cigarette and your evening drinks can show this. Do you really need them anyway? Do your kids see you drink and drive? Through your own example, what messages are you sending your kids about drugs and alcohol?
Your kids will notice any hypocrisy on your part. Talk is cheap. Serve as your own example of your beliefs and values concerning drugs and alcohol. Don’t just preach it, live it!
Give them facts
Teenagers don’t buy the argument that trying a “milder” drug means they’ll soon be injecting heroin. This doesn’t scare them because they rarely see it happening in real life. In place of scary theories, you can give them facts. The experimental use of cannabis is the normal way for a child to experiment with drugs without taking any serious risks, this you should not endorse, but talk to them about further use. You should be open with your child, and encourage them to talk to you about anything, or they will feel like they are alone, and this could lead them into further drugs. You and your child should know the names of all popular drugs, what effects they have on young minds and bodies (short and long-term), and the legal penalties for drug possession and use.
Tell them that drugs and alcohol make teenagers more prone to dangerous accidents. Tell them they can never trust the quality of drugs or know exactly how they will respond to them. Tell them that drugs can poison and kill them. Tell them their lives are too precious to take these chances. And above all, tell them you love them and would hate to see anything bad happen to them. This will really make them think about whether it is really worth it.
Drink and drug driving
Drinking and driving is the biggest killer of adolescents. You must be steadfast and clear about your rules concerning drinking and driving. You have every right to insist that your teenager should not drive after drinking or ride with a driver who has been drinking. These same rules should apply to any drugs.
This rule should be accompanied by a heartfelt promise: If your child is ever faced with drinking/drugging and driving or riding with an intoxicated driver, he MUST call you up. You will pick him up (regardless of the time) or arrange to have him picked up. Upon his safe return home, you promise you will not question, punish, or lecture him. If your child fears calling you, he may drive drunk and never make it home.
Doing your best
You can’t eliminate your teenager’s curiosity about drugs and alcohol; you can’t shield them from the social pressures to use them. Keeping silent and letting her come to her own conclusions about this is unconscionable. You can encourage their self-worth, give her the hard facts, establish firm limits, set a positive example, and always stand by them.