Discussing Drugs With Your Teen
Has your child ever had a drink? Smoked a joint? Has he ever tried cigarettes? Now that you've likely answered, "No," or, "I don't think so," or, "He's too young," ask yourself this: Why would he tell you if he had?
The Cold, Hard Facts
Parents, take note: The average first age at which a child tries alcohol is 11. The average first experimentation with marijuana comes just a year later at age 12. Whether or not these statistics startle you, they do – or will – affect you as a parent.
Although overall drug use in teens has declined since 2001, a 2006 survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 14.9 percent of high school seniors, sophomores and eighth-graders reported using illicit drugs in the previous 30 days. Abuse of prescription drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin remains a concern, too, and has actually increased among eighth-graders since 2002, according to the survey.
Teenage alcohol use in the United States is even more common. Teenage drinking peaked in 1981, leveled off through 1993, but has since risen. According to a 2005 Monitoring the Future survey, three-fourths of high school seniors, more than two-thirds of sophomores and about two in every five eighth-graders have consumed alcohol. And 29 percent of seniors, 22 percent of sophomores and 11 percent of eighth-graders reported engaging in "binge" drinking within two weeks prior to the survey.
The reality is that drugs and alcohol are available to kids at a very young age. And when it comes to discouraging them from using, researchers suggest the best source is parents.
What You Can Do
According to Talking with Kids About Tough Issues, a national initiative by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Children Now, children whose parents communicate openly about drugs are less likely to use them. And the campaign urges parents to begin a dialogue early.
At age 4, Karen Cone-Uemura's daughter is well under the age group in which drug experimentation typically appears. But Karen is keeping the lines of communication open before her daughter ever reaches the age at which drug use could become a concern.
"The drugs we talk about are cigarettes, beer and wine – the only ones she's been exposed to so far," Cone-Uemura says. "She's seen relatives smoke so we've talked about the perils of smoking. With alcohol, we talk about how a little is OK for grown-ups, but not for children."
Mom Kristy Ciprana is drawing on real-life situations to teach her children how drug use can affect lives.
"I discussed everything from smoking to hard-core drugs, taking something 'cool' from a friend, assessing the value of a friend who feels that drugs are cool or OK," she says. "My sons both have a lot of interests and we discussed how successes in those interests can be harmed by drug use. My sons are very anti-drug, and we have made it the cool thing to be among our family and in their group of friends. I use the fact that my older son is pretty popular, and he can be one of the ones who makes the right values be 'cool.'"
Ciprana says her younger son has also seen the results of smoking in his grandfather, and that alone is discouragement enough.
Research shows that an approach like the one Ciprana uses – frank and frequent talks – is the best way to drive home the point that drugs can derail a child's future plans. A national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Children Now found that three out of four parents of kids ages 10 to 12 say they've talked about drugs and alcohol with their children. But the campaign urges parents not to think a discussion about drugs can be a one-time event.
"The 'big talk' isn't what it used to be. It now needs to be 'supersized,'" says Matt James, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. "When parents today talk with their kids about tough issues that means covering the basics, plus a whole lot more."