Drug and Alcohol Chats that Connect
Eleven year-old Aaron Finkelstein remembers his parents talking to him about drugs when he was in preschool. They didn’t sit him down for a serious talk, the Cherry Hill, NJ, 5th grader recalls. It was more informal.
His mom, Sally, says she and her husband have used opportunities that crop up in daily life to discuss drugs, alcohol and cigarette use with Aaron and his siblings, Mitchell 13, and Natalie, 6. According to experts, the Finkelsteins are right on target.
Start the Conversation Early
Today, kids begin experimenting with drugs younger than ever before. Eight percent of 12-year-olds use drugs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol and nicotine are also drugs, and need to be included in any conversation about drugs.
Michael Bradley, EdD, a Bucks County, PA psychologist and author specializing in children and adolescents, says that a parent must start the conversation when the child is very young — even toddler age — because our kids are raised in a drug culture. The goal is to develop your child’s belief that drugs are something to avoid.
“Controlling is easy, it’s short-term, and it doesn’t work,” insists Dr. Bradley. “You want to get them to have a belief system that drugs are really stupid. It’s not cool, sexy, fun or harmless as it’s presented in the culture.”
The D.A.R.E. program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), a school program designed to give kids skills to avoid involvement in drugs, gangs and violence, starts in the 5th grade. “While most kids don’t get involved with drugs at that age, when they get into middle school, they really start getting exposed to it,” explains James McGivney, a regional director of D.A.R.E. America. “This prepares them for their entrée into middle school.”
How to Begin
As the Finkelsteins have figured out, an out-of-the-blue conversation won’t work. Your child needs to relate to the discussion. When you see a character on television drinking or an article in the paper about someone overdosing on drugs, use that opportunity to begin the conversation. “Say to your kids, ‘What do you think about this?’” suggests Dr. Bradley.
Take advantage of teachable moments. Having an open rapport with your children is especially important, and that often comes from spending mealtime together. “It’s been proven that having dinner with your kids every night is the best prevention tool that there is,” adds McGivney.
D.A.R.E. says police officers working through its program visit about 50 percent of area 5th graders each year. If your child’s class has a D.A.R.E. police visit, converse about what he learned in the program. For more tips on talking to your child, visit www.getsmartaboutdrugs.com.
Through such conversations, your children will be prepared for you to set ground rules — starting with your expectation that they are not going to use drugs.
Together, create a plan to help her get out of uncomfortable situations. Dr. Bradley recommends that if she encounters alcohol at a party, she can text you ‘911’ or another code word. That will be your cue to call her and say that there is a family emergency and she must come home right away. She won’t have to explain to her peers her true reason for leaving.
If Your Child Has Used Alcohol or Drugs
If your child seems to be intoxicated, Dr. Bradley advises parents to assess the situation. A trend today is to mix alcohol with energy drinks, which allows the teen to drink a lot without seeming very drunk. Be sure the child is not getting dangerously intoxicated.
If you feel secure, both of you should go to bed. When the child is sober the next morning, ask her what she learned. Avoid losing your temper and be sure to maintain a line of communication, says Dr. Bradley. If you are lucky, she will say she was really stupid and she’ll never do it again. In the worst case, after repeated episodes, you will have to decide if your child needs treatment. Your child’s guidance counselor is an excellent resource.
Sally Finkelstein hopes her children never experiment with drugs, but she also hopes they will come to her if they find themselves in trouble. “We try to promote open communication,” she says. “If one of my kids experiments with something and isn’t feeling right, we hope he calls us and knows we’re there for him.”
Terri Akman is a local freelance writer.