Keep communicating to prevent drug problems before they start

By Bob Gordon on February 19, 2013
In 2011, the Public Health Agency of Canada published research on the use of drugs and alcohol among students in Grades 5, 7 and 9. Half of the students surveyed reported having used alcohol for the first time between the ages of 12 and 14. The report also noted that most youth under the age of 15 said that use of cannabis and alcohol carried little to no risk when compared to tobacco use.

Your child’s concept of drug use can form as early as their toddler years, so it’s never too soon to make that relationship a positive one. According to Glenys Causton, a social worker with 30 years experience in correctional, addiction and hospital settings, “toddlers can have it impressed upon them that drugs are prescribed by doctors, come from specialty stores (pharmacies), and are treated with respect in the home – stored securely and only taken as ordered.”

That means your behaviour toward prescription medication, recreational drugs and alcohol will help your children develop a healthy with drugs and alcohol.

Time for the talk

Before your tween becomes a teen, make sure the lines of communication are well established and open. “If you are not already talking with your tween you can’t possibly talk to them about drugs,” says Glenys. If your first conversation about drugs is because of a school suspension or a run-in with the police, it may already be too late.

Communicate cooperatively and listen actively, says Glenys. Try engaging kids in conversation about stories in the news about drug use, videos they watch on YouTube, or story lines in their favourite TV shows or films. Tweens communicate in their own manner and at their own time, so be patient.

Another strategy is to move from the general to the specific, says Glenys. Start with ‘We need to talk’, before you move to ‘Have you ever been offered drugs?’

This leads into the issue of peer pressure. Ask directly if they ever felt pressure when it comes to substance use. Influence from peers may play a key role in your child’s experiences with drugs and alcohol.

These questions may feel awkward and may not result in a meaningful conversation, but your tween will know you are there if and when they need to talk.

How to get help

If your tween is using drugs or alcohol, there are a variety of community agencies available to help. Start with your doctor for a referral or your child’s guidance counsellor.

To learn more about organizations that can help, we've put together a list of online resources.

Keeping drugs at bay

Drs. Gabor Maté and Gordon Neufeld, authors of Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More, maintain that communication, consistency and education are not enough to prevent substance abuse. “Connection has to underlay all of these,” says Dr. Maté. Strong, secure emotional attachments with adults are what reduce the risk of drug addiction in later life, he adds. Without this, rules are irrelevant because they will be broken, communication will be “meaningless because the child won’t listen”, and eventually peers and peer opinion will displace parental influence. Attachment and connection is something that we all need, and, according to Dr. Maté, its absence is the key to addiction.

While “overprogramming” is a parenting buzzword, extra-curricular activities do tend to keep kids busy – hopefully too busy to get into trouble. Children involved in sports, music lessons or volunteerism are less likely to become bored and may also meet positive role models and peers outside of family and school.

Remember to…
  • Ask questions and show interest in your tween’s friends and their activities. 
  • Become informed about drug activity in your community. 
  • Tell your child that you love him or her often. 
  • Be sure your child knows you will be there if you are ever needed. 
  • Avoid screening who they see socially. 
  • Respect your child’s privacy and don’t become intrusive or controlling. 
  • Keep your cool if a crisis occurs. 

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2013.

By Bob Gordon| February 19, 2013

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