The Big Chat

The Big Chat

While the rest of this book is directed at you, here are some suggestions written for parents who want to discuss drugs with you. Don’t forget, though – they may have a reason for the discussion that has nothing to do with you or any suspicions about your behaviour. On the other hand, if you want to bring up the topic yourself, it may be a good idea to get your parents to read this section first!

When talking about drugs, and you feel in danger of losing control due to anger or suspicion, try and remember:
  • If your child is discussing drugs with you, it’s possible he or she is at a stage in life when they want to make their own decisions
  • As a parent, your job now is to offer understanding, acceptance, support and unconditional love
  • The level of trust and how you respect his or her privacy will largely determine if and how your child will approach you
  • Provide advice and opinions when asked, but try not to lecture
  • Establish and stick to reasonable, realistic rules.

How should parents bring up the subject?

Choose a moment when there are no distractions, and when everyone involved in the discussion is in a reasonable mood. Approach your child in an open and honest way – explain what you want to discuss, and why. If you are honest, your child is more likely to be.

Don’t pretend to know everything about drugs. (It may be that through school health problems, TV and the internet, your child knows more than you!) Admitting you don’t know everything, and explaining that there have been changes that have caused concern and that you want to help with whatever it is that’s caused the changes in behaviour, will be more effective in opening lines of communication.

However, don’t start the conversation until you’ve done your homework. Educate yourself about the issues, and be prepared to explain what it is that’s led you to initiate the discussion at this time. Know the names and street terms for the drugs you’re discussing. If questions arise that neither of you can answer, suggest going to appropriate sites on the internet so you’re learning together. By presenting yourself as a source of guidance – but not as a know-it-all - you’re likely to be viewed as a source of understanding and support if and when help is needed.

Don’t lecture. Listen to your child, and respond to what he/she says in what should be a two-way conversation.

What if my child brings up my own ‘drug use’ - past or present?

If asked about your own illicit/illegal drug use, it’s probably unwise to lie. However it is important to ask a question in return to establish why your child would be interested. If they are looking for an excuse to be able to use illicit drugs without repercussions, it would be wise to turn the conversation around. For instance, after asking them why they might be interested, another question could follow – ‘what do you know about these types of drugs?’ From there the conversation moves away from relating any unhelpful past activities to one about the dangers of the current illicit drug scene.

If your use of nicotine or alcohol arises, be honest. Explain that drugs such as nicotine are extremely difficult to cease, once started. Alcohol, if used by young people, can have negative effects on the developing brain.
Point out, that you are aware that if your use of any drug became a problem, you would seek help.

What if our discussion doesn’t alleviate my concerns?

It may be that your child is telling the truth. However, if you’re still worried, monitor their behaviour and seek medical assistance if required. For example, it would be wise to take your child for a medical check-up, especially if you are concerned about behavioural or mood changes, or obvious changes in eating patterns.

Whatever the outcome of the discussion, continue to involve your child in family issues, trust him/her and indicate through words and actions your unconditional love and respect his/her privacy. If there is more to be said, your child will feel safer in opening up again in an environment in which earlier statements or opinions – about drugs or anything else – haven’t been viewed as stereotypical labels or judgments.

Feeling wanted, cared for, respected and worthwhile are fundamental human needs. A strong support network of friends and family will build your child’s self-esteem – and this will increase the chances that he/she will feel safe in communicating problems to you, and also is a factor in reducing the likelihood that a child will take drugs. Healthy self-esteem also helps children and adolescents feel confident in any decisions they do make, and enables them to resist peer pressure.

If your concerns continue and you think they are valid, seek professional advice. Accept that few parents are equipped to handle what is occurring, and may occur in the future. Don’t feel as if you have to deal with the problems alone.

Several programs and services exist to help, including 24-hour support services.

It’s going to be stressful during this period. How do we cope so the family continues to function? It may be stressful – on all of you. Consider and explore different ways of dealing with the stress that suit each person individually and as a group.

As parents, you may be able to ‘vent’ with each other when the child and other children aren’t around, and/or reduce stress through time away from the family, at the gym or on the golf course. In the same way, you should not deny your child time with his or her friends, during which sport, other physical activity or ‘time out’ shopping or at the movies, may help in alleviating stress.

Don’t deny yourself the opportunity you are presenting to your child – the chance to discuss the problem with a safe and supportive person – whether it’s a friend, doctor, or other person. However, if you’re telling ‘family secrets,’ make sure the secret won’t be broadcast and eventually lead to a breakdown in trust.

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