Groundwork on Drugs

As parents, you are the most important role models in your children's lives. What you say and do about drugs matters a lot when it comes to the choices your children make. You can:

  • Set a positive example and get involved in your children's lives
  • Get involved in their activities, know their friends, know where they're going and what they're doing
  • Create clear consistent expectations and enforce them
  • Talk early and often about drugs
  • Show you care about what choices your children make about drugs

Children learn by example. They adopt the values you demonstrate through your actions. As they grow, they're impressed by your concern for others when you help a neighbor and your honesty when you admit making a mistake.

Planning for togetherness

Sometimes it's frustrating how few chances there are to have conversations about drugs with your children. In our busy culture, with families, juggling the multiple demands of work, school, after school activities and religious and social commitments, it can be a challenge for parents and children to be in the same place at the same time. To help make sure you have regular get-togethers with your children, try to schedule:

  • Family meetings. Held once a week at a mutually agreed upon time, family meetings provide a forum for discussing triumphs, grievances, projects and topics of concern to a family member. Ground rules help. Everyone gets a chance to talk; one person talks at a time without interruption; everyone listens, only positive, constructive feedback is allowed.
  • Regular parent child rituals. These eliminate the need for constant planning and rearranging. Perhaps you can take the long way home from school once a week or get ice cream or make a weekly visit to the library together. Even a few minutes of conversation while you're cleaning up after dinner or right before bedtime can help the family catch up and establish the open communication that is essential to raising drug-free children.

Making your position clear

When it comes to dangerous substances like alcohol and other drugs, don't assume that your children know where you stand. Most children will be more comfortable if you state your position clearly; if you're ambiguous, children may be tempted more easily. Tell your children that you forbid them to use alcohol, tobacco and drugs because you love them. (Don't be afraid to pull out all the emotional stops. You can say, "If you took drugs it would break my heart".) Make it clear that this rule holds true even at other people's houses. Will your children listen? most likely. According to research, when a child decides whether or not to use, a critical consideration is "What will my parents think?"

Also discuss the consequences of breaking the rules-what the punishment will be and how it will be carried out. Consequences must go hand - in - hand with limits so that your child understands that there's a predictable outcome to his or her choosing a particular course of action.

Whatever punishment you settle on shouldn't involve new penalties that you didn't discuss before the rule was broken - this wouldn't be fair. Further if you follow the rules you can expect others to do so. You should not issue empty threats ("Your father will kill you when he gets home!"). It is understandable that you'd be angry when house rules are broken, and sharing your feelings of anger, disappointment, or sadness can have a powerful motivating effect on your child. However, since we are all more inclined to say things we don't mean when we're upset, it is usually best to cool off enough to discuss consequences in a matter-of-fact way.

Contrary to some parents' fears, your strict rules will not alienate your children. They want you to show you care enough to lay down the law and go to the trouble of enforce it. Rules about what's acceptable, from curfews to insisting that they call you to tell you where they are, make children feel loved and secure. Rules about drugs also give them reasons to fall back on when they feel tempted to make bad decisions. A recent poll showed that drugs are the number-one concern of young people today. Even when they appear nonchalant, our children need and want parental guidance. It does not have to be preachy. You will know best when it is more effective to use an authoritarian tone or a gentler approach. Always let your child know how happy you are that they respect the rules of the household by praising them.