Keep communicating to prevent drug problems before they start

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

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

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
  • 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
  • Keep your cool if a
    crisis occurs. 

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2013.

Related Articles