This week is Red Ribbon Week in all Marion County schools. Budget cuts have resulted in students no longer having actual red ribbons to wear in honor of the message, but the message behind the week is still important.
Red Ribbon Week is about promoting a drug free lifestyle to students throughout Marion County. The school system makes an effort to teach our children to live drug free, including the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Program for 5th grade students, but ultimately it is up to parents to ensure that our children understand the importance of this lifestyle.
Single parents should take their responsibility very seriously. As a working parent, you may discover that there are times when you have to trust your child to be home alone or in the company of children you either don’t know very well or aren’t sure you can trust. It’s vital to know that even if your child is pressured that you have given him or her the tools to resist and the knowledge that saying no is the right thing to do.
Start talking to your kids when they are young. Even if you don’t think they’re old enough to understand, talk to them anyway. Explain why drugs or alcohol are a bad idea, and start giving them tips and tricks on how to say no.
As they get older, present them with situations in which they might be offered drugs or alcohol – say, at a party at a friend’s house or while hanging out at the park with a group of kids they don’t yet know. Ask them to tell you how they would refuse. Ask them how they would remove themselves from the situation if their peers won’t stop.
Some parents waver on the idea of telling their children about their own experimentation with drugs or alcohol as a teen. This can be a tough call to make. Letting our children see that we can be vulnerable and can make mistakes can be a good thing, teaching them that no one is perfect, and that even when mistakes are made, we can learn from them and still be loved and have a good life. At the same time, however, your story may do more to encourage them to try drugs or alcohol rather than to turn away from them. If your story is about how you smoked a joint and it made you really hungry and you felt weird for a while, and then you went home and slept for a few hours, got up the next morning and everything was fine…that might not exactly teach your child that drugs or alcohol are a bad idea.
If, on the other hand, your story is about how you got addicted to meth, and the health problems it caused you, or how you got arrested because you had meth and the legal troubles you then had to deal with…these stories are the ones that might cause your child to think twice when offered any type of drug.
At the same time, you need to judge your child and their maturity when it comes to sharing these stories. While some kids may take your story of the trouble you had as a warning and think twice about drugs or alcohol, other less mature children may instead see it as more of a “well, Mom/Dad did it, so why can’t I?” That’s not the message you’re trying to send, obviously.
You also need to be certain to be honest with your child. You might hesitate to share your history with drugs with your child unprompted. But if they ask you outright if you ever did drugs, don’t lie. If you are anything less than honest about that history, and your ex or someone else who knows tells your child, that will undermine everything else you’ve said. If they do not ask you outright, and you’re reluctant to share your honest history, then it’s best to not mention it at all, rather than to lie about it.
It used to be that teens might experiment with drugs but eventually, unless they became addicted, most “outgrew” drugs and stopped doing them long before having children and creating their own families. However, it seems to be more common these days for people to continue smoking pot or using other drugs even after having children. This can present many questions when you’re trying to teach your child not to do drugs. A few of the questions that might arise:
Why does Jane’s/John’s dad/mom smoke pot? Why is it okay for them but not for me?
Why does my mom/dad do drugs? Why can they do it but I can’t?
If drugs are so wrong, then why do so many people we know do them?
This is where a discussion about choosing friends wisely might be a good idea. It also might be a good idea to reconsider your friendships, if most of your friends do drugs and you are trying to convince your child drugs are wrong.
There’s another question you may face, depending on your views. There is a growing segment of the American population that believes that all illegal drugs should be legalized. Some are for this just because they do drugs and this would mean they would no longer need to worry about getting busted. Others are for it because they believe by legalizing drugs, we could then tax drugs and it would ease the prison population since people would no longer be arrested and convicted for drug crimes. If you’re one of those that agrees with this sentiment, your child may want you to explain why you don’t want them to do drugs but you want drugs to be legal. To a child, this may seem like contradictory ideas. If you’ve never thought about how to explain your thoughts and feelings on this, it might be good to start now. This is not one of those times when falling back on “because I said so” will work. You need to be able to explain your stance in order for your child to take you seriously.
Some single parents became single because they left their child’s other parent over drug or alcohol use. In those cases, sometimes parents are tempted to hold up the other parent as an example of why drugs or alcohol are such a bad idea. As tempting as it is, and as effective as it might be, this is really not a good idea. It would be all too easy for your child to come to the conclusion that you are only doing that because you don’t like their other parent and to then discount what you’ve said. This is especially possible if your ex has gotten help for their problem since you left the relationship. However, if drug or alcohol use contributed to the death of your child’s other parent, this can be explained to your child gently and compassionately and may help to deter them. In this, as with all else, you should consider your child’s age, maturity, and sensitivity.
There is so much that keeps a single parent busy. There are so many things we worry about teaching our children about, talking to them about, and trying to make sure they know in order to ensure they grow up to be happy, healthy, stable adults with morals and values. Sometimes we forget about the issues that seem to stare us right in the face. It’s important to make time, even with all the other things to do and all the other things to talk about, to discuss drugs and alcohol with your child before they’re tempted.