It is highly likely children will, at some point, be exposed to drugs*. Research by the Department of Health shows that parents have a big influence on how their children think about drugs. So having adult conversations with them about the implications of drug use can help them make better decisions. Here are some pointers for how to start taking to your kids about drugs:
- Get talking. Talking about anything – not just drugs – is essential for building a trusting, open relationship with your children. This is especially important these days with mobile phones and devices commonplace distractions from conversations. Ask questions like “What happened today?”, or “How do you feel about …”, “Did you know that …”.
- Build a strong foundation. Conversation about drugs needs to start at a young age and be age appropriate. Start by talking to your pre-schoolers and 5 year olds about medicines – what they are, why people take them, how they affect the body, and alternatives to medication. Later, talk to them about other legal drugs such as caffeine and tobacco – including the effects they have on the body.
- Parents are role models for kids. Your views on alcohol, tobacco, and drugs can strongly influence how your children think about them. So make talking about drugs a part of your general health and safety conversations. For example, before taking medication for your headache, say something like: “I have a terrible headache. I tried drinking a glass of water, and then I tried rest but it hasn’t worked, so now I will take something to help my headache.”
- Take advantage of "teachable moments" now. If you see a character in a movie or on TV with a cigarette, talk about smoking, nicotine addiction, and what smoking does to a person's body. This can lead into a discussion about other drugs and how they could cause harm.
- Be informed and be willing to listen. Your children will expect you to be informed, upfront and honest when you are talking about drugs with them. If you show you are listening to them, they are more likely to listen to you. During a conversation try not to interrupt them or react in a way that will stop whatever you’re discussing. Encourage them to feel comfortable about telling you their problems, and ask for their input on family decisions to show that you value their opinions.
- Have a balanced discussion. Responding calming and honestly when your children ask questions or enquire about drugs helps keep the door open as kids get older and are less inclined to share their thoughts and feelings. Refrain from using ‘scare tactics’, instead, talk to them about why some people might choose to use these drugs, why we have decided as a society to make them illegal, and how these drugs can affect the body.
- Seek help. If you think your child might be using drugs, don’t ‘go it alone’. Seek help from your family doctor, local drug education and counselling services, or visit Family Drug Support Australia (http://www.fds.org.au/). Drugs are fundamentally a health issue, akin to alcohol addiction and binge drinking. Drug users need help, and treatment is available.
* When Life Education refers to drugs, we mean anything other than food or water when put into the body changes the way the body works. Some drugs are legal such as medicines, caffeine and alcohol and some are illegal. All drugs legal and illegal can be harmful.