Talking to Kids about Drugs & Alcohol

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Should I disclose my past drug use to kids?

Jan 2007

I am interested in hearing how parents who have engaged in recreational drug use in the past have discussed this with their children. Or whether they have at all. I have two kids, 12 and 8, and we have talked openly and honestly about the effects and dangers of drugs and alcohol, but they have yet to ask whether we have used drugs. (They know we drink alcohol in moderation.) I have smoked pot (smoked quite a lot for about 10 years) and tried mushrooms and cocaine (didn't like them at all). My husband has done those drugs much more extensively, plus some others including LSD. I want to tell my kids the truth, but in a way that doesn't condone it or make me seem hypocritical. Has anyone actually had this conversation? I keep thinking about what it would have helped me to hear at that age, but I can't seem to figure it out.
Don't Want to Get Caught Off Guard

I say, LIE! I'm in the same situation with a 15 year old. I don't tell her what I did, but sometimes I indicate that I have tried stuff in order to tell her I know what she's going through, and then I follow up with a bad story (not lies). She doesn't need to know all the stupid and unhealthy stuff I did. I need to use my knowledge to help her stay off the stuff, not to say it's okay for her to try it. I am also dealing with her being somewhat genetically sensitive to addiction. Her father and grandparents on both sides were alcoholics (and drug addicts) and we feel it's best to try and help her to avoid it altogether. To help her see that it's not going to help her in her life to get involved in it. I hope this helps... good luck

Do your kids REALLY need to know everything about you? Sometimes I think we are lead astray by the notion of being ''honest'' with our kids. I did a lot of drugs too when I was younger, and when the time comes to discuss drug use with my kids, that's where ''open and honest'' will end. I plan to say that I experimented a bit but quickly learned how dangerous and what a waste of time it was. And I plan to tell them stories about the people I hung out with who went on to harder drugs and ended up junkies, etc. I'm not above telling them the worst of it and leaving the details about myself vague, at best. Or downplaying them, or omitting them altogether. When I think back on the bad judgement I had and the risks I took, I feel really lucky that something dire didn't happen to me, and my parents were fairly clueless. I would be beyond grief if anything happened to my kids because of drinking or drugs, so I would try all means to disuade them. After that, their fate is ultimately in their own hands, I guess. Good luck! anon

I was very honest with my kids, now in their 20's, when they asked me did you ever try ...? Now, I would not tell an 8-year-old about my drug use, but when my kids were 14 or 15 and we had these discussions, I knew that their friends were starting to experiment with this, and I wanted to be able to give them better advice about it than they'd get from their friends. I used it as an opportunity to point out the down side of drugs, using my own first-hand hippie-girl experience. I was able to tell them about bad things that happened to people I knew, and also to give my own opinions about using alcohol, marijuana, and harder drugs. It is hard to do this without glorifying drug use. But not impossible. I think that my kids were much more mature than I was in the decisions they made about drug use at 17, 18, 19, and hopefully had fewer bad experiences than I did. I have talked with other parents about this who felt they needed to conceal their past experience and I respect that decision too, but for us in our family, it was important for me to be honest.

When did you talk to your kids about marijuana?

Nov 2004

My husband and I are wrestling with the following issue: We have two elementary school kids, third and fifth grade. Our elder will be heading in to a new school in a short time. We'd like to learn from other parents at what age your kid encountered pot, started smoking pot, what you did to either prevent it or how you helped your child to manage it. And of course there's lots of literature about being honest with your kid when they ask about how much you got high, but we haven't been asked that question yet, and I'd love to learn how other parents responded. Many thanks. anticipating the issue in advance

I encountered marijuana while in 5th grade at Joaquin Miller in 1981. My sister was in 7th grade at Montera and started smoking then. We moved to Palo Alto partly to get away from the drugs at Montera, but alas, I started smoking pot in 8th grade in Palo Alto. I remember having drug education and learning about pot in my 7th grade science class and thinking that I would never do drugs. That lasted less than one year. Don't dispare however, my sister and I are both very responsible upper-middle class members and good mothers now. Lisa

Well, I'd think a lot depends on (ahem) are you still smoking out?

If not, I think the thing to say is, ''Well, yeah, I've done it, but I don't think it was a very mature thing to do.'' This is pretty much what my dad (Cal, Class of 1971, so you know what he was doing as an undergrad) told me, and I decided to pass on the whole experience. It just didn't seem like something that the adults I respected did, and at 14 I desperately wanted to seem adult, thus....

If you are, um...look, I grew up knowing kids whose folks smoked out, and, um...the kids didn't end up having a lot of respect for their parents.

Keeping all this in mind, I think I'd bring it up with your older kid pretty soon, because I know it'll come up by the time s/he gets to middle school.

I also tend to think you should discourage school-aged kids from smoking weed...their brains are still growing. As Chef on South Park says, ''There's a time and a place for everything, and it's called college.''

I wouldn't just talk about marijuana, either -- there are a lot of drugs and chemicals out there (I still remember being told as a college freshman that huffing air duster was way safer than smoking pot...yeah, riiiight) and most of them will mess you up, so it's better to skip the whole experience. Sara

I've never read anything on the subject, but it seems like they will be more likely to bring up this subject if you bring it up first thus demostrating that its OK to talk about with you. kids get exposed to drugs at very early ages these days and it's most important that they know you feel OK about talking about this stuff so they can come to you with questions when they have them. you might just ask if they've encountered or if they know anyone who uses and what they think of that. and tell them what your concerns are. anon

My daughter is in 8th grade and by this time she has heard A LOT about pot. I can't remember when we started talking about it, but it hasn't been such a big deal. We have been at parties when people are smoking (not that she was near enough to really get what was happening), and could smell it, or our neighbors are smoking and it's wafting down the hallway. I was on the fence about telling her my own experiences until this year. I felt it was time we could have a conversation about it and she should hear real stories. I didn't like smoking that much when I was a teenager, so my stories are not glorifying it. My pot-smoking years were very short. Had I liked it, I think I would just say, and I do, that pot takes you out of your reality, you have less control over your actions, and continual pot-smoking (in my experience) makes people less motivated to get anything done. Her father would say, ''it makes you stupid''! That said, if or when she wants to try it out, I would probably feel like she could at least try it and see for herself. I hope I don't freak-out! But I would want her to be safe wherever she is and to know what she is smoking. In my day there was a lot of crap that was added to make it more powerful with mixed results and sometimes bad ones. They get information in school in health classes also. I guess I would bring it up when it seemed appropriate, either when your son asks, or after you walk through a cloud of it on Telegraph Ave.! Good luck anon

Hello-- this is truly a tuffy but, i think i ight be able to help a little. First off, 3rd grade (8-9 yrs old) is too young to talk about pot. It's too abstract. The concept is out of reach and not yet something so easily undertsood. It'll open up a can of worms filled with 'Why?' questions... and unless you are prepared to answer them ALL you're better off just waiting till they are 12. If you don't answer them all, then their curiousity will be forever piqued, they will talk to peers seeking answers to the unanswered questioned, who will, in turn, talk to their parents and that could be a bad domino effect...depending on who calls you to 'discuss' this issue. Yikes!

Age 12, like with sex education, is a pretty solid age to introduce your children to the general aspects of marijuana use. Now, a lot of people are going to advise you to talk about how bad it is to 'get high'. That it'll rot your brain, things like that. But, negative reinforcement only raises interest level. Because, in a strange way, just like how candy is bad for your teeth, it'll seems more inticing.

Might I suggest a better way to explain the negative effects of marijuana? Outline where it comes from and how it eventually gets into the hands of people on the streets, or in schools, etc. (i.e. drug traficking, drug related violence, etc.) Explain that people who need it for it's medicinal properties can get it legally through doctors. And they get it from people who grow it to be used specifically for medicine. For ailments such as glaucoma, pain related to cancer and AIDS, sleep disorders, stress, etc. After that is digested, then maybe try introducing some of the basic side effects: memory loss after prolonged use, it IS addictive, bad breath, gum disease, tooth loss. Also: since you're on the subject of drug use, why not explain how alcohol and cigarettes, who's easy accesibilty, has more detrimental effects beyond belief. Alcoholism and violence, drunk driving, lung cancer, mouth cancer, the list literally goes on and on.

If I were you, i'd be more concerned about what is actually readily available in stores as a commom product. Because, those are the TRUE 'gateway drugs'. (But, don't tell Phillip Morris that!) And you know .... a lot of kids are never actually exposed to it. Maybe they don't run in the right circles or they're too busy with extra-cirricular activities. But, i think the truth about the how's, where's, and why's is your best bet. Real understanding instead of scare tactics. Because, in the end, if a joint is passed his way at a party in high school, it'll ultimately be his decision whether or not to take that first puff. ~Hope this helps~

In my 16 years of experience talking to children and young people about drugs and drug related issues I have found one thing to consistently be true. Ask before you speak. What they know, how they know, what their friends say, what they have seen etc. This will give you a much better idea of what question they are really asking-is about drugs, relationships, biology, family, risk taking, the enticment of danger or the unknown. Once you have that, you can then tailor your answer appropiately.

Our culture gives huge double messages about drug use and pleasure, as do most of us as parents. Sugar is an incredibly dangerous substance and highly addictive(try to go a couple of days without eating something sweet to really experince the true nature of addiction and withdrawal) and yet we often feed it to our children with a minimum of regret. Our childrens birthday parties are models for adolescent binge drinking, and the media is rife with ads for sugary treats and pills to cure every minor ill. Yet we cringe when we talk to our children about marijuana or our use. Our cultural dilemma truly internalized.

I believe that age appropriate open discussion about self care, pleasure, exploration and curiosity, danger and risk is essential in todays world. By contextualizing the discussion of drug use within these larger topics we openly face the issue without giving it an aura of romance or adding more fear than is absolutely neccesary.