Regardless of whether or not you have a family friend or family member suffering from addiction, it’s important that you talk to your children about addiction early and often.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 19.7 million American adults aged 12 and over battled a substance abuse disorder in 2017. Because of the prevalence of addiction in the United States today, it won’t be long before your son or daughter becomes aware of addiction through the news, a televisions show or movie, or a friend’s experience. He or she will likely be curious to know more.
It’s always best to approach your children about sensitive and complex topics before they approach you, but it isn’t always easy. Addiction is not easy to talk about but it is one of life’s heavy subjects that deserves parental attention, insight, and commentary. Read on for some tips for talking to your kids about not just drugs, but addiction in particular.
It’s Never Too Early
Even small children can learn about the evils of drug abuse if they are explained in ways that they can understand. A child may take a vitamin every day and they may taste very good, but a parent can explain that one a day is the limit because the vitamin is medicine, not a candy. Further, the child will be able to understand that if one takes too much medicine, he or she will get more sick.
Consider Your Child’s Age
The message you offer will differ depending on the age of your son or daughter. Small children can simply be taught to follow the rules when it comes to taking medicine. Elementary and middle school students should be reminded of this, but also can be told about the dangers of taking common, specific recreational drugs and drinking alcohol – in particular, the severe dangers of doing these things at a young age – and how even occasional use can sometimes lead to lifelong problems for users.
By early high school, your son or daughter will be well aware of drugs, alcohol, and addiction. At this point, you can discuss with them the ways that addiction can affect individuals, friendships, families, and futures. You can also discuss treatment and recovery.
Be Open to Questions
It’s crucial that you express clearly to your child that you are always available for questions and that no question is silly or stupid. Explain that if you don’t know the answer to a question, you will find out together. The tone of all drug and alcohol abuse and addiction conversations should be supportive and encouraging rather than negative and scolding. Even if his or her first encounter with someone suffering from addiction is years away, he or she will know that you are there to help and advise or listen at any time.
Honesty is the Best Policy
It’s possible that you yourself are in recovery from addiction and if your son or daughter asks you about it you should be honest about it. You don’t have to tell them everything, but you should answer their questions with the most honesty you can. This also goes for other people in your family’s lives that they may suspect of having a drug or alcohol problem. Hiding these things will only cause confusion and mistrust and will leave your child wondering if he or she really can ask you about sensitive issues.
Explain That It Can Happen to Anyone
Addiction can strike anyone from any background or upbringing. It is a disease that can be treated, but choice also plays a part in both addiction as well as in recovery. Explain to your children that people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol are not bad people, they are sick and need help.
Let Your Child Be the Guide
There is a lot to be said about addiction so be careful not to overwhelm your child. Let him or her guide the conversation and ask questions as they naturally arise. Be thorough, but don’t give them too much information all at once. A thing like addiction is difficult for anyone to understand and process, so give your child space and time.
There are many online resources for children or teens to learn about addiction. This page from the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine has links to a few, KidsHealth.org does as well.
Talk to Your Kids About Addiction
Hopefully, these tips will be of help to you when you speak to your children about addiction. Again, it is likely that they will learn about it one way or another before you even think it’s on their radar, so it’s best to approach them so they know that you are there to answer any questions they may have. They will appreciate your proactivity and openness and it will just make your bond stronger. The sooner you talk to your kids about drugs, and in turn, addiction, the better. Start today.
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