Parenting is full of questions that are difficult to answer and risks that are difficult to prevent. Your protective instincts are important, but it's also your responsibility to prepare your children for adulthood, and sometimes that means letting them make their own decisions. As your kids get older, those decisions may involve drugs. So, when and what should you tell your kids about drugs?
Ignorance is never ideal. Instead of sheltering your kids from the concept of drugs for as long as possible, treat drugs like anything else that's off-limits for children but present in our everyday world. The sooner your kids know about drugs, the more time they'll have to develop a healthy and accurate perspective on them. Remove all the mystery and secrecy, and be upfront about the fact that some adults choose to alter their minds with substances.
If you exaggerate the consequences of drug use in order to instill fear in your kids, it may have the opposite effect. When they find out you were wrong or exaggerated the issue, they may question everything else you said. And if you've used drugs recreationally in the past, don't lie in an effort to set an impossible example of total abstinence. Instead, take advantage of the opportunity to share firsthand anecdotes that give you extra credibility and allow them to relate to you. They'll appreciate your honesty and learn from your previous mistakes.
Instead of lecturing your kids about drug use, make sure the dialogue is two-sided. Ask questions, and encourage them to ask questions too. This open communication allows them to feel heard and respected. It also gives you the chance to prepare them for future decisions. Present hypothetical scenarios that are age-appropriate. For example, you might ask your nine-year-old what she would do if an older student offered her a joint, or ask your teenager how he would handle a friend who passed out after using drugs.
Emphasize safety above all else when dealing with drugs. You can be clear that there will be natural consequences if rules or laws are broken but it is always about keeping people safe and then dealing with the aftermath. It's when kids are too scared to get help that something tragic can happen.
Avoid telling your kids what to do. Allow them to apply all the facts and come to their own conclusions. This critical thinking exercise will prepare them to make good decisions when they confront drugs in real life, rather than being scared or unprepared. Of course, it's important to listen carefully and correct any misinformation they might have.
Going through a hypothetical situation with them now can reveal what they know and don't know, what their potential choices and decisions would be, and give them a chance to consider their best responses outside of an emergency situation, plus it's a time to check to be sure they know who to call and when. What better time to discuss not only good responses but who their friends are, who might get into these situations, and how you as a parent would respond as well.
Drug use is a chosen behavior. No matter what, you can't make your kids' decisions for them. Neither can their friends or classmates. Instead of invading their privacy, making threats, or interrogating them, trust them to make the right decisions. Let them know you're always there to answer questions, and provide a safe space for them and their friends to talk about their encounters with drugs.
Even if your children do experiment with substances, remember that drugs come in many sizes and shapes. From caffeine and sugar to prescription pills and hallucinogens, most people use something external to alter their minds. Instead of fearing specific substances, encourage your kids to develop many different options, make informed decisions, and keep communication open.