One of my big projects with my former company was a web site for college freshmen to prevent binge drinking and give information on the effects of alcohol and drugs, among others. I am not a content expert myself, but we have had some great chats with Dex, as well as some intensive reading in conjunction with the projects I mentioned.
So, I thought I would pass along how we have handled it and would also love to hear more suggestions from you in the comments. It takes a village, right?
1. Talk to each other before it comes up.
Talk to your partner about how each of you feels, how you want to handle the subject and how you want to approach the message. This talk is really important, because when you get the random question you won't be a sputtering, awkward deer in headlights.
2. Answer questions at age-appropriate levels.
Just like sex, our kid has asked questions about smoking, alcohol and drugs at different ages. In the early days, we generally gave a quick explanation to satisfy his curiosity but not much more. As he has grown, we've given more details.
3. Break up your talks.
You know this. Kids hate lectures. Pounce on opportunities to naturally inject information into their voracious brains.
4. Talk about the differences between drugs.
Part of the reason "Just Say No" failed is because it had an across the board "drugs are bad" mentality. Research the effects of drugs and explain them as needed. When we heard about the pot bust at school, we immediately showed Dex photos of pot so he could identify what he might be offered, and also mentioned that it is sometimes put in brownies, etc. We talked about how there are some hard drugs out there that can have much more serious consequences in terms of the law (remember, marijuana is legal here in Colorado) and much stronger physical side effects.
5. Talk about addiction.
My father was an alcoholic, and we have explained how anyone can get addicted to anything. That there are people who use alcohol as a crutch, and some people use drugs the same way. Along with the discussions about different drugs, mention that some may be very hard to stop once they are started.
6. Talk about immediate effects.
Most teens think things like cancer and death will never happen to them. That is long off into the future, right? However, they *do* worry about physical changes like bad breath, teeth and skin (thus those disgusting meth ads not too long ago).
7. Talk about your own drug use.
It may be hard, but it's important for them to know, and for you to be honest. Dex knows I have tried pot a few times in college, but I didn't care for it. Simple as that.
8. Look at commercials and ads.
We have been doing this with Dex forever, but ask your child, "What is this ad selling?" and "What are they trying to convey?" At first the answers are pretty funny, but you will be amazed at how media-savvy your kids will become once they start deconstructing messages. The main point is that many movies, TV shows, ads and commercials glamorize drugs, alcohol and smoking, but rarely show the bad side effects.
9. Role-play ways to decline drugs.
Literally stand up and act it out with your kids. Come up with a bunch of scenarios, and have them suggest some too. Often a non-judgmental "no thanks, it's not my thing" kind of answer works best because it will not making the "offerer" feel insecure. Also, technology-based escape plans are helpful, like pretending to get a text or setting an alarm to leave a party before things get intense.
10. Keep them busy.
Many friends have talked about sports and clubs not only being enriching for their teens, but gives them "excuses" for not taking drugs. If your kid is serious about soccer, they won't risk being kicked off the team. But just generally, it gives them a support system and inherent set of friends to hang with.
11. Ask them about their opinions.
It is very important to see what they think. One of the first questions I had about the pot bust was, "what do you think about that?" Dex said he and his friends thought it was crazy. It was a great jumping off point for conversation, we knew what he thought, and he felt included instead of lectured to.
12. Be clear about your expectations.
Tell them while you want to have an open conversation about drugs, you do expect them not to do drugs. Be sure to also tell them that you love them. Believe it or not, kids really do care what we think.
What else? Please add your insights in the comments!