Should You Tell Your Teen You Tried Alcohol or Drugs?
Being honest with your children without making any past recklessness sound entertaining can help them make smarter choices
The questions many parents dread begin as early as middle school: Did you do drugs when you were in school? Did you drink when you were a teenager?
Parents’ natural reaction is often to clam up and try to hide youthful misdeeds. But there are ways to use stories about your own underage drinking, reckless driving or drug use to teach teens important lessons about health and safety. It requires listening carefully to what teens are asking and staying focused on what they need at the time.
One of the most common mistakes parents make is to let their own past missteps prevent them from talking with their teens at all, says Marcia Lee Taylor, president of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, a New York nonprofit. Children who learn a lot at home about the dangers of drugs and alcohol are much less likely to use them, she says.
Other parents err at the other extreme and spill too many details, says Madeline Levine, San Francisco, author of “Teach Your Children Well.” Saying, “ ‘I took LSD and ecstasy and this kind of pot and that kind of pot’ gives it a specificity.” Some teens may read that as a green light to try drugs themselves, Dr. Levine says.
Lynn Zakeri of Northfield, Ill., a clinical therapist who works with adolescents and young adults, says she sees this pattern in her office a lot. “Kids say, ‘My mom did that, or my dad did that, and they turned out OK, so it must be OK,’ ” she says. When parents aren’t careful about how they tell stories, “the kids see it as, ‘My dad was a partier. He was a cool guy,’ and they say it with a smile.”
Parents should avoid either glorifying past adventures or overemphasizing the risks, says Wendie Lubic, an instructor for the Parent Encouragement Program, a Kensington, Md., parent-training nonprofit. “Limit your message to the important points you want to get across,” she says.
Wayne Bland was riding with a teenage friend years ago when both had been drinking. The friend took a curve too fast. Their car nearly crashed onto a roadway more than 100 feet below. “We looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, this is it. This is how we’re going to go out,’ ” he recalls.
Mr. Bland, a Charlotte, N.C., investment adviser, has told the story to his five sons, 15 through 28, adding, “one simple mistake could have cost my life, and if that had happened, none of you guys would be here,” he says. His son Justin, 17, says the story “taught me not to do stupid things while driving.”
Howard Savage told his two daughters how staying up late smoking marijuana as a college sophomore made him unable to pay attention in class the next day—“and that was pretty much the last time I ever smoked pot,” says Dr. Savage, a Takoma Park, Md., physician. He also described the profound grief and sense of loss he felt after his best friend in medical school died from a narcotics overdose. “It was the worst period of my life,” he says.
Article by Sue Shellenbargerof The Wall Street Journal