How to talk to kids about parents' past drug use


Is honesty always the best policy? Good Morning America parenting contributor Ann Pleshette Murphy has some excellent advice for parents struggling with how to talk to their kids about their own past experience with drugs.

How to talk to kids about parents' past drug use

One of the hardest things to do is to talk with your child about drugs. Especially if you used drugs when you were younger.

Here are some tips to help you stay focused on the issue at hand — your child’s drug use.

  • Remember that when kids say, "C’mon, Mom, you must have used drugs when you were a kid...," when you are talking to your children about drug use, it is a manipulation to get you off the topic which is their drug use, not yours. There is no more reason to share the details of your drug use, than there is to share details of your sex life, or your financial situation.
  • Keep in mind that you are their parent, not their friend or their pal, and the details of your younger life are not relevant. You need to keep the focus on them, and the rules for their behavior. (And, even if you did use drugs, the times were different, the drugs were different, and the consequences were different.)
  • You are on a slippery slope if you recount an amusing story about a time that you were high — on drugs or alcohol. It sends a message that it is okay, no matter what you say.
  • When you talk to your kids about drugs, you must establish clear rules. If you are at all ambivalent or equivocal about the rules, your kids will ignore them. You don't need to be a teetotaler, but it sends the wrong message if you say you need to drink because you are so stressed out, or you need to take a pill because you are so anxious.
  • You have the total right to look in your child’s room for evidence of drugs or drug usage if you suspect that they are using. The symptoms of possible drug use include a drop in their grades, changes in behavior, sleeping more than usual, a change in appetite, separating from friends and become isolated, sneaking around or spending an unusual amount of money.
  • If you are challenged — “How dare you invade my privacy and search my room” — stay focused on the issue at hand — your child’s possible drug use, not your exercising an appropriate level of parental supervision.
  • It is inappropriate to tell you child that it is okay to use drugs or drink at home, but not at others’ homes. It sends the wrong message about the drug or alcohol use.
  • It is important to talk with the parents of your child’s friends to learn what their rules are for their children, and to let them know what your rules are for your child.

One more time: In order to maintain appropriate supervision and parental authority around the issue of drug and alcohol use, it is critical that you talk to your kids bout drugs and are clear about what the rules are and what the consequences are if rules are broken.

DENISE: So how do you talk to your children about the use of drugs when you possibly used them when you were their age? We have a great guest Ann Pleshette Murphey who is the author of The Seven Stages of Motherhood and a parenting contributor to Good Morning America. Lie to your kids or tell the truth, you used it as a kid and it didn't serve you.

ANN: Yeah I think that this is really hard for parents because first of all for those of us who grew up in the late sixties, early seventies, late seventies when drug use was different, when drugs were different. When your kid is saying oh come on mom you must have smoked weed when you were my age. The point is they're often doing that to get you off the topic which is their drug use. So you have absolutely no reason to share the details of your drug use any more than you would your sex life or your financial life or any other issues that are really not to be discussed with the kid because they're not your friend. You know your child is not your pal, you're the parent. And so I think it's very important to say it's really not relevant here and even if I did use drugs when I was your age, drugs were very different, the times were very different and that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about what the rules are for you.

DENISE: There's a lot of that going on, I want to be a pal to my kid. Too much of it going on, especially in this area?

ANN: I think so because I think that first of all you are really on a slippery slope when you sort of tell a funny story about when you were really high or even if your use of alcohol is sending the message that of it's okay. You have to have really clear rules because when teenagers sense that you are ambivilent or that you're equivocating about the rules, they are going to go through that door at about 60 miles an hour.

DENISE: There's really also do as I say, don't do as I do.

ANN: You don't have to be a teetotaler necessarily, but I don't think that the message should be Oh I'm so stressed out I need a drink or that you need to take a pill when you're feeling really anxious. Again, making it clear that a little bit of alcohol at your age and when you can handle it and when it's legal is very different than a teenager drinking or doing drugs.

DENISE: You can't address this issue without addressing the issue of privacy. Because you're teaching this child that this is your room, this is your special place. But if you think that there's something in the room you need to be aware see I'm a hard liner...I go into the room to find it.

ANN: Well absolutely I think that if you have, if you suspect that your child is using drugs and certainly if you suspect that they're abusing drugs, then we all know, we've heard what the signs are. Dropping grades, change in behavior, they're sleeping a lot more than they used to, change in appetite, they're separating from their friends, isolating themselves, sneaking around, spending a lot of money--any of these symptoms, you have total right to go into their room and look for drugs or evidence of drug use. And if they say how dare you go into my room, again stay focused on the issue at hand which is the drug use and wanting to stop it, particularly when it's interfering with their lives.

DENISE: There is a parenting thought out there that well I'd rather them do it at home...

ANN: I really do think it's inappropriate to say to your kid, oh I rather your friends drink here than drink at somebody else's house where I can't watch you. It's very important for parents to talk to other parents. You know I can't stress enough how critical it is to know what other people's rules are and particularly other parents' of your kid's good friends. Know where you stand because one of the messages has to be under no circumstances where you might be drinking or doing drugs with friends at our house. That's our rule.

DENISE: And you've got to be clear with those rules.

ANN: Yeah and the consequences. I think that's the other thing.

DENISE: Thank you so much for being with us.

ANN: Thanks.

meet theexpert
  • Ann Pleshette

    Ann Pleshette Parenting Contributor, Good Morning America, ABC Ann Pleshette Murphy has been the Parenting Contributor for Good Morning America since November 1998, and her “American Family” segments are a recurring feature on GMA. Murphy is the author of The 7 Stages of Motherhood: Loving Your Life Without Losing Your Mind (Anchor Books) and travels the country speaking to mothers’ groups about such themes as striking a balance between work and family, wrestling with guilt and setting loving limits. She was Editor-in-Chief of Parents magazine from 19 more about this expert »

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