Talking to your Preteen About Drugs
ANSWER: It is never too early for drug prevention. Even primary grade children benefit from learning to keep their bodies healthy. Teaching respect for our bodies at an early age is a protection against later drug abuse. Public school polls reported that two-thirds of fourth graders wished their parents would talk more to them about drugs!
Generally, when children leave primary grades, they enter a larger, less protected school environment. Preteens are gradually growing more independent, a process which continues through adolescence. Toward the end of this period, children begin to make conscious decisions about their lives. This is a critical time to develop the ability to make healthy and informed decisions about their future.
Children are very vulnerable at this age. Those with low self-esteem, problems at home and low academic performance in school are most likely to begin early experimentation with drugs. They can become easy prey to the lure of selling or using drugs. Early experimentation, before the age of 15, is correlated with later drug addiction.
At this age of development, kids are fascinated with how things work. They want to know how their bodies operate. They are curious about what happens to their bodies when drugs are ingested. Give them the facts about drug use. Explain how anything taken to excess -- even aspirin -- can be dangerous.
Talk to your preteens about the ways that drugs and alcohol are promoted in the media. Use opportunities that arise, such as song lyrics, television shows or advertising that suggests drugs, tobacco and alcohol are glamorous. For example, the generalized use of alcohol in many television dramas (Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal and others) portray professionals drinking routinely as a ritualized ending to a workday.
Point these subliminal messages out to them and separate myth from reality. Emphasize decision making, legality and alternative ways to relax and unwind. Look at your own styles of coping and be willing to talk about these, too! If you have a beer or two every evening, be willing to examine the issue. Are there other ways to unwind?
Point out that alcohol and tobacco use are illegal for children to protect their developing bodies. Use of alcohol and tobacco will be a choice reserved for when they become adults.
Making a difference
The number one reason children give for not taking drugs is that a caring adult will object! Children who have positive and strong connections with a caretaker (parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or mentor) do not want to jeopardize that relationship.
Given a strong relationship with your child, the following points will help protect your child from drug abuse:
If your child does make a mistake, help him or her get back on track. Do not condemn them for their behavior. Instead, condemn the behavior and continue to believe in them. Remember, you are your child's strongest ally against drugs!
Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.
Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.
Copyright 1996-2003. Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.