This week is Red Ribbon Week in Marion County. You should capitalize on this and use it as an opportunity to not only discuss drugs and alcohol with your child, but to reinforce the message being sent by the schools as well as the message you have tried to send. Regardless of your child’s age, you can start sending the right message to your child; the sooner your start, the stronger that message will be and the more imprinted it will be on your child’s mind when faced with temptation.
We all want to protect our children. We don’t want to expose them to any of the bad things in life, like drugs, pedophiles, death, and more. In this attempt to protect them, we don’t discuss these things with them unless forced, maybe by the death of a grandparent or the unfortunate exposure to a pedophile.
You don’t necessarily need to discuss drugs and alcohol with your child at this age in order to start sending the message that they shouldn’t do drugs and should only use alcohol in moderation once they are old enough.
Send the right message through your own example. Don’t use drugs and drink in moderation. Look at your friends – do THEY set the example you’re trying to give? If they don’t, consider whether those friendships really belong in your life. If you decide to keep friendships with people who don’t set that example, you’ll need to ensure that they don’t do drugs around your children, or drink too much. You’ll also need to begin working on your explanation about being friends with and loving people who do things we disagree with.
If your child’s other parent uses drugs or drinks too much, consider going through the courts to restrict visitations to supervised visits or make other arrangements to ensure that your child is not in the care of his or her other parent while that parent is actively using drugs or drinking. This will not only protect your child’s health and safety, but is also another step to show them your stance on drugs and alcohol.
Marion County schools, along with the rest of the nation, honor Red Ribbon Week in October of every year. With events such as pledging to not use drugs or alcohol and thinking up slogans and logos to support that, or wearing red as a sign of solidarity against drugs, elementary school children will be hearing about drugs at school during this week, and depending on grade, at other times throughout the year. Fifth grade students participate in the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program.
While it’s safe to assume the schools are sharing the same message you are sending, it’s still important to discuss it with your children. You may find that your child has misunderstood something that’s been said. For example, second-grade student Kevin at Stanton-Weirsdale Elementary misunderstood a presentation in his class. The teacher was showing that some drugs look and even taste like candy, a message that Kevin confused and told his mother that candy was a drug. Clearly, this is not the case, and Kevin’s mother talked with him and helped him understand that the point of the presentation was that there are drugs that can look like candy and this is why he should not accept candy from strangers nor should he assume that what looks like a piece of candy on the ground is, in fact, a piece of candy.
It’s a good idea to look up photos of various illegal drugs and show them to your child so that they have an idea of what they look like. This will make it easier for them to recognize what they’re being offered if someone offers them drugs, and may prevent them from being misled if someone tries to convince them that it’s not a drug.
It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with as many drugs as possible. Many of us are fairly familiar with marijuana (pot, mary jane, etc.), cocaine, crack, meth, heroine, ecstacy, and a few others. We’ve heard of them, seen photos in our own drug programs in school, or some parents may have even experimented with one or more of these drugs in their own youth. But, whether you’ve been out of of school for 10 or 20 years, or even just 5 years, new drugs and new forms of old drugs are created all the time. It’s very likely that there are many differences between what you once recognized as drugs and what is now considered an illegal drug.
Preteens and Teens
One aspect of illegal drugs that parents can often forget is prescription drugs. While prescription drugs are legal, the use of one by someone other than the person it was prescribed for is not. You’ll want to discuss with your child why it’s important not only that they not take a prescription medication prescribed for someone else, but also why they shouldn’t share their own prescription medications with others. You’ll want to make sure they understand that they can be in legal trouble for using them, and also for selling them – and this can happen even if they are not technically selling them but just giving them away.
Another thing to discuss is obtaining those prescription drugs. There are a wealth of websites that offer almost any prescription drug you can think of for much less than you can get it at the pharmacy. In almost everyone’s email, there’s at least one offering Viagra, and many other drugs. While it can be tempting for anyone to go this route, it’s vital to remember that most of these are scams. Even if you get the drug, it often comes from other countries – and those countries are not subject to the FDA, which means that the drug may not be of good quality, or may have too little or too much of the active ingredients. You should make sure your child understands that ordering medication off the internet through sources that you can’t be certain are reliable is a very bad idea. Sit down with them at the computer and show them the difference between the sites offering Viagra from Canada or Mexico, and Walgreens, CVS or an insurance plan’s prescription ordering service.
Over the counter drugs are something to discuss as well. While all are safe when used according to the package directions, they can easily be abused, intentionally or unintentionally. Whether your child takes too much Tylenol trying to ease a headache or uses pseudoephedrine (the active ingredient in Mucinex and Sudafed) to make meth, easily and legally obtained over the counter drugs can be abused. It’s important to discuss this with your child, and ensure they understand how to properly use these medications.
You also need to discuss other ways that kids can use “drugs” that may not immediately come to mind – such as “huffing”, the inhalation of aerosol spray cans of paint and other things, and even sniffing gasoline fumes. Drug use, or abuse, is not necessarily about whether or not an item is specifically illegal, but about the use of a substance that alters the mind or body in some way.
As parents, it is our job to try to teach our children right from wrong, and also to ensure they can think outside the box. You want them to think beyond traditional illegal drugs and consider other things that could be drug use and abuse, whether those things could get them into legal hot water or not.
At all ages, begin teaching them various ways to say no. From outright “no” to smooth ways to remove themselves from the situation, teach them multiple ways to refuse and teach them how to assess the situation and determine which way to refuse would work best in that instance.
Don’t wait for Red Ribbon Week each year to begin the discussion, either. Discussions about drugs should be a year round thing. Make sure your child knows that they can come to you with questions, concerns or just to have an open discussion with you. Be open to whatever they may say. If it’s not what you want to hear, take a moment before you react. Don’t immediately jump to a lecture or discipline – remember that they came to you, and that if you react negatively, they may not come to you again. Keep the communication going.