Parenting: How to talk to your kids about drugs if you did drugs

November 1, 2011

But experts at the Partnership at just printed a full-page guide in The New York Times that is one of the best step-by-step sets of talking points I've ever read. I've summarized it here to save space; but you can read the article verbatim at their website,

The bottom line is that it's never too early to talk about dangerous choices with your children; and even when they act like they're not listening, your children really are.

Of course, how you handle drugs and alcohol now, or what you DO, not just what you SAY, is also an important reference point for your tween or teen. It's the environment they've grown up in and in many cases will consider "normal. Sadly for children who have an alcoholic parent or one who abuses drugs it can be very challenging to break the cycle.

Baring any current adult misuse, ages old experimentation on your part when you were younger might be to your children's advantage, according to the experts - if only because it makes you more patient and forgiving.

Here is the synopsis from their article:

1. THIS ISN'T ABOUT YOU. Many parents are afraid their teen will ask them if they ever did drugs. That's the single biggest reason some parents never have the discussion at all. That's a mistake.

2. EXPERTS DISAGREE. Should you confess to your child? Use your own judgment, based on your child's personality and your relationship with them. Some kids demand candor. Others are happy to know fewer details.

3. WHEN SHOULD YOU LIE? Experts say never. Parents always risk losing credibility if a friend or family member slips and tells the truth. Either speak honestly or don't answer the question.

4. THE WHOLE TRUTH? Avoid giving your child more info than they asked for. This is not a courtroom; it's a conversation. Say you "tried drugs because you felt peer pressure but never enjoyed them," if that's the truth. Or say "I need to think about the best way to answer that question and I'll get back to you with something age appropriate."

5. SAY WHAT YOU MEAN TO SAY. Don't beat around the bush. Say "I don't want you to use drugs because they're dangerous, expensive, unpredictable and distracting..."

6. WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED? If you decide to say you did drugs at one time, you don't have to say how many times. And put it in perspective. Include the TV headlines about Lindsey Lohan or Amy Winehouse' troubles/death. Your personal experience is just one small part of the overall conversation of the dangers.

7. SAY IT AS A GIVE-AND-TAKE. You could say that it took you a while to grow confident enough to face up to peer pressure and ask your teen if they ever feel that way. You could say you used drugs and it was a mistake, and that you don't want them to repeat your mistakes. You could say "drugs didn't ruin my life but they didn't help it either. And I've seen drugs ruin other people's lives. I don't want that to happen to you."

8. DON'T JUST TALK. LISTEN. If your child stays silent the first time you bring up the topic, tell them you can understand that maybe you caught them off guard and that you'll bring it up again later. Ask what they think of celebrities who use drugs. Ask if it's a subject their friends talk about. And listen to their answers.

9. STAY CALM. KEEP TRYING. This shouldn't be a single conversation. But part of an ongoing dialogue as your child has new experiences. It's okay to admit these conversations aren't easy for you either.


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