Parents who want their children to listen to them must be able to deliver a message with credibility. Older children, in particular, will know it if their parents are talking about something they don't really understand. And even if children don't realize at the time that they are being told inaccurate information, they certainly will later on as they become more informed by experience or their peers.
One day when I was speaking in a classroom, a girl named Lori shared how her mother had tried to discourage her from smoking marijuana by telling her that her hair would fall out if she did. Lori blurted out, "If that was true, then half my class would have no hair!" The entire class burst into laughter.
What a mistake Lori's mom made by inventing this false "fact"! She had found a sure-fire way of losing credibility with her child.
And that is why my next guideline is know your stuff. You have to educate yourself about the different kinds of drugs and alcohol as well as the effects of those substances on the human body.
The good news is that today there are many books a parent can purchase to learn about the range of drugs available to their children, the different names used for drugs, and what effect they may have on a young person. The Internet is also an invaluable resource for parents seeking more information.
As you educate yourself about drugs and alcohol, you will feel more capable when talking to your child about the issue. And when you feel this way, you will be better able to reason with your child, gently correct her perspective if it is based on untrue information, and increase her confidence in you.
Other reasons for knowing the facts about drugs and alcohol include the following:
It will enable you to take advantage of opportunities that arise. Remember the saying "A scout is always prepared"? The same should be true for you.
There will be times when you have unexpected opportunities to talk to your child about drugs. More than likely you won't be able to excuse yourself from the conversation because you want to research the Internet for information. Not being ready with reliable and relevant information will result in a missed opportunity to be a positive influence in the life of your child.
It will make your children more open to listening to you. Your child is more likely to listen to you because what you are saying is trustworthy. You'll get the hearing you want.
Already I can hear you saying that evidently I don't know how temperamental your child can be. He or she won't listen no matter how reliable your information is!
It's true that nothing, not even having accurate information, surpasses the importance of having a strong and healthy relationship with your child. However, when your child is finally in a place to hear you, at least you will know that the information you are sharing with your child is reliable.
It will help you to be more objective and less reactive. The more you know about drinking and drugs, the more rational you can be in talking to your child about them. You'll be less tempted to explode out of anger, fear or frustration.
Engaging in a battle of words with your child, or becoming irrational, will cause you to lose influence on your child's decisions. That's the last thing you want.
It will show your child that you care. There are evenings when I come home from work tired and flop into the lounge chair to watch some meaningless television so that I don't have to think. When bedtime comes, I hustle the kids into bed, telling them that it's too late to read them a story. (What that means is, the commercial break is almost over!) I turn toward the door, only to hear "Daddy, we forgot to say our prayers." (Now I'm thinking, The commercial break is finished and I'm going to miss some crucial part of the program I was watching.)
So I know what it's like. We parents are often so tired that just getting ourselves and our kids through the day seems like an achievement. And yet — believe me — they know when we aren't paying them the attention they deserve.
That's why when you educate yourself on the subject, making an effort to understand your child's world and how illegal substances can harm it, your child will take notice. Most of the time, when we make an effort with our kids, they benefit from the investment we have made.
You will become aware of resources that can help you. Taking the time to learn what you need to know about drugs and alcohol invariably means talking to other parents, teachers, coaches and pastors. You never know when you might find an ally in your efforts, and that's a wonderfully reassuring thing.
In a beautiful way, parents seeking information and practical skills for themselves become a resource and support to each other. And this is only one of many great reasons to be sure you know what you're talking about when you discuss drugs and alcohol with your kids. But just as important as having the right information is knowing how to use it.