Schools, parents, and the
media try to give children a clear message--drugs are bad. Children
hear, “Just say no to drugs,” and, “Drugs can kill you.” Six- to
nine-year-olds accept the message without question and declare,
“I’ll never take drugs!” “You’ll go to jail.” “It’s against the
law.” With few exceptions, they have no internal conflict about
drugs, they don’t experiment, and they don’t face peer pressure to
try drugs. They’re very aware of what’s right and wrong and they
even know that drinking and driving don’t mix. One child, seeing a
passing motorist sipping from a beer can, urged his parents to write
down the license-plate number and call the police.
It’s easy for a young child to say no to the idea of drug use. What
parents need to consider is what will happen when their child gets
older and is confronted with peer pressure and opportunities.
Parents hope that early warnings will keep their child out of
trouble, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case. However,
they should do all they can now to help their child reject impulsive
First, they should behave in ways they want their child to adopt.
Too many parents say, “Don’t use drugs,” and then condone, use, or
abuse alcohol or drugs themselves. They need to set a good example.
If they drink frequently, kids will accept that as normal behavior.
If they smoke, their children may smoke when they get older.
Certainly if parents use drugs, their child will be confused about
their warnings. Parents may try to hide alcohol or drug abuse, but
he will eventually discover the truth. Then he may not only copy
their actions, but feel anger and distrust toward them for deceiving
At some point, as you deal with the issue of drug abuse, your child
may ask if you’ve ever used drugs. If you haven’t, you can
comfortably answer the question, perhaps starting a discussion:
“What made you curious?” “What did you think I’d say?”
If you did use drugs in the past, this isn’t the time to give your
child the details. Perhaps you can share more when he’s older, but
at this point simply give your message that drug use is
unacceptable. Telling him anything more will greatly increase the
risk that he’ll eventually do as you once did.
Keep the lines of communication open. While your child might be
enrolled in an elementary school drug education program, don’t count
on that to keep him safe. These programs are often ineffective
because they’re aimed at young children who are already convinced
that drugs are bad. Programs for pre-adolescents and teens tend to
be more successful because they target kids who are actually exposed
to drug culture and who are much more cynical about laws and
Your child needs your continuing guidance and support to resist
drugs. Answer his questions and talk about the dangers of drug use.
Your child will hear about political leaders, celebrities, and sport
stars who’ve been arrested for drug possession or who’ve died of
overdoses; he may be very upset if he admired one of them. Use these
occasions to talk about the reasons for drug use and the
alternatives people can choose.
As your child grows, you can help him avoid drugs by staying
involved and encouraging him to feel good about his abilities and
character. There’s value in a strong ego. A positive self-image
gives a preteen or teenager strength to resist peer influences and
comfortably say no to drugs.
During the early elementary years, you’ll have few actual worries
about drug use. But don’t ignore the potential problem. As he
reaches the pre-adolescent years, keep talking to your child,
reinforcing the anti-drug messages he hears, and helping him become
strong enough to resist temptation when he encounters it.