New research shows that retelling your past drug and alcohol experiences to your adolescent children is possibly a bad idea. A study by The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that kids whose parents spilled the beans were less likely to hold anti-substance abuse perceptions.
“Why would we tell them our gory or law-breaking behaviours of the past? What good would possibly come from that except maybe a release of guilt for the parent?” says teen expert Mary Jo Rapini. “They may tell themselves that you did it so it’s okay for them to. Remember our kids use us as a guide for what is the norm for them,” she says.
Dr. Wendy Walsh agrees: “Teens look up to parents. Their attitude may very well be: Well, my parents tried it and they turned out fine.” Double standards - do what I say, not as I do - never work, says Walsh. “If they know you did drugs, that will be more powerful than your verbal warnings.”
Frequent marijuana smoking amongst teens is up 80% since 2008, according to The Partnership at Drugfree.org. Nearly one in 10 teens smoke marijuana at least 20 or more times a month. And there’s a growing perception that a little weed or a few pills is no big deal. Many parents are turning a blind eye, thinking it’s just a passing adolescent indulgence. But this isn’t the ‘60s, says Rapini.
“Parents are too lax. They don’t understand the dangers of pot much like they don’t understand the danger of cyber-bullying. They equate pot use and bullying to their teen years,” says Rapini. “But the marijuana smoked today has changed and we know it changes brain chemistry.”
Your job as a parent is to teach, mentor and guide your child, stresses Rapnini. “The rule of thumb is before you say anything, ask yourself who is this helping? Is this for me, or for my child? Leave your past in your past.” So should you lie when asked outright? “Omitting facts isn’t actually lying,” says Walsh. Tell them it’s “none of your business. But I make it my business to make sure you understand the consequences if you use drugs. I want you to know the physical risk and I want you to know the rules of our house, the behaviour I expect from you and the consequences if you break this rule.”
Walsh says that kids need you as a role model more than they need to see you as a flawed person. “The focus should be on the consequences of drug use, not your personal experience.” On the other hand, Susan Shapiro Barash says to be honest about your past. “If you do not come clean, your child may find out one day through a mutual friend, relative and feel betrayed. This could push her/ him to dabble, almost as a rebellion.” Be sure to mention the consequences of your actions as well as what you dabbled in – include a cautionary tale, adds Shapiro, professor and author of You’re Grounded Forever… But First, Let’s Go Shopping. And don’t overshare: “Your child needs you as an adult, not a buddy.”
Parents need to reinforce the message that this behaviour is unhealthy, agree experts. According to Dr. Vivian Diller, a New York psychologist, do not lie or hide the truth from your kids about your past marijuana use. Convey information about drug and alcohol use in a smart, thoughtful way and at the right time in a kid’s life, before it’s too late.
Kids are starting younger with weed use and are assuming there are no negative consequences when used regularly. “In part this increase usage probably comes from lax attitudes from parents, but more than anything it comes from our culture that has made it seem acceptable.”Don’t be lulled into looking the other way regarding the risks of using marijuana. “Our more lenient attitudes will only likely increase the prevalence and potency of what is out there today… there is enough research that suggests they face potential dangers that previous generations did not.”
Tips from expertDr. Wendy Walsh about what you can do to guide your kids about helping them make the right decisions:
Have the talk. And have it early. Waiting until ninth grade is way too late.
Point out negative consequences of drug use as they crop up in the news or the kids’ social circle.
Decide what exactly your house rules will be and what the consequences of rule breaking will be.
Follow up all threats with action. Make sure the consequences are real in your house.
If all else fails, be prepared to change their peer group if necessary. That may mean you may have to move the family to a new school zone. But it’s worth it, if it means saving your child.