Psychology :: Talk to kids about drugs before they become teenagers

Talk to your child about drugs before they get to middle school, when they are most likely to encounter drugs for the first time.

Pre-teens are experimenting with drugs and alcohol as early as age 11, catching parents by surprise, say mental health professionals who treat adolescents at The Menninger Clinic. Because many parents don?t expect their children to have access to drugs until in their teens, many don?t recognize the signs and symptoms of substance abuse in their children.

“The kids we treat have been using for quite some time before their parents figure it out,” said Norma Clarke, MD, medical director of the Menninger Adolescent Treatment Program. “They convince their parents that they are not using, because their parents don?t want to believe they are using. Also primary care doctors often don’t ask about drug use, and most psychiatrists don’t ask.?

Doctors may diagnose the mood swings caused by drug use as symptoms of bipolar disorder or a mood disorder, preventing adolescent patients from getting the treatment they need.

Some tips to start talking to your kids –

? Educate yourself. Learn what you can about the latest trends in drugs and alcohol in your own community, so you know what your children are dealing with. Three out of five parents in the 2005 Partnership for A Drug-Free America study reported discussing drugs like marijuana ?a lot? with their children, but only a third of parents reported discussing the risks of using prescription medicines or non-prescription cold or cough medicine to get high, which they are more likely to abuse.

? Keep it simple. When talking to your pre-teen about drugs, tell your child that you do not want him or her to use any illegal drugs, prescription drugs and over the counter drugs such as cough medicine or inhalants. Parents can also take advantage of teachable moments when watching television or a movie together, for example, when a character uses drugs or alcohol.

? Practice saying ?no.? Role play with your child how to ?say no? to drugs when they are confronted by someone offering them. ?No thanks, it?s not for me,? or ?That?s illegal. I could get into trouble or get kicked off the team? are examples of ways to say ?no? to drugs.

? Get involved. Know what your children are doing, including their activities and how they spend their time. You have the right to set rules about what they watch on TV, what movies they go to and songs they listen to. Let your children know you are monitoring their time on the Internet and what Web sites they are browsing out of concern for them.

? Listen and talk often. ?Learning to listen without judgment or criticism is an important part in healthy communication with your child,? D?Antoni says. ?This opens the opportunity for them to share what?s really going on in their lives without fear of being criticized or judged by you.

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