By now you probably know that drugs and alcohol present an insidious threat to your children. But did you know that you are the crucial element in preventing your children from suffering the harm that substance abuse can bring? Healthy communication at home is the best means of setting your children down the path to a promising future free of alcohol and drug abuse.
If I were teaching this material to a roomful of parents, this is the point where I would expect a voice to pipe up in about the sixth row. "Excuse me," the voice would say. "I get what you've been saying, but I have a question: How do I get started in talking with my children about drugs and alcohol?"
And that would be a very good question. So we'll be looking at some key guidelines that will get you going.
You'll learn how to make conversations on this topic a regular component of your parent-child relationship. After all, teaching your children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol shouldn't be so much an event as a part of your normal conversation. To single out one exchange that makes you feel as though you've "done your duty" misses hundreds of opportunities to reinforce the importance of what you want your child to understand.
One day a few months ago, I was in the car with my 10-year-old son, Ben, and we were creeping along on a highway past an accident site. Ben had never seen anything like the scene and was curious — and more than a little disturbed.
"How could something like that happen, Daddy?" he asked.
"Sometimes people are careless when they are driving," I answered. "They don't think properly and do silly things."
I was going to let the matter go at that. But then a light went on in my head.
I continued, "People do lots of different silly things. For example, drink too much beer or wine. That's not good for them and makes them do things they regret later on. Maybe the driver who caused this accident was drinking too much."
A little later in the conversation I mentioned that the legal age to drink where we live is 21.
Ben asked, "Why do I have to be 21 years old to drink alcohol?"
I said, "Because people tend to be more responsible at that age than when they are younger. They don't drink just to be cool in front of their friends."
Just one little comment in the middle of a normal conversation. But added to a lot of other comments made over the years, it will help Ben to understand deep inside that he's better off not messing with drugs or drink.
Each of us should keep open lines of communication with our children and, wherever appropriate, work in messages about drugs and alcohol. That kind of conversation comes naturally as part of healthy relationships and in turn helps to build healthy relationships.
But it all starts with having the right determination.
You make intentional, responsible decisions every day. You might decide to set the alarm clock before you go to sleep at night so that you can get to work on time. You might decide to give up your daily latte so that you can save money for the new car your family needs.
And you're just as intentional and responsible when it comes to your role as a parent. You might restrict the television your children are permitted to watch. You might check to make sure they are doing their homework.
Well, consider this: In the same way you make deliberate choices each day about routine things, so you need to decide to prepare your children for what they will face in regard to drugs and alcohol. The simple point I want you to remember is that you need to be intentional.
From the moment your children reach an age where they are observing everything around them, interpreting and storing that data for future decisions, you must make a conscious decision to get involved in the lives of your children. Think carefully about the information and values you want to teach your children. Choose to talk to them in ways that will be of help to them later on.
We'll be getting to the what and the how of starting communication with your children a bit later. But before that we have to consider the when.