How to Talk to Your Kids About Drugs and Other Bad Habits

Ever since my kids were in preschool, I have been talking to them about drugs. While some people might think I'm crazy for doing that, I have a rational explanation. As my mom always said when she was raising us, "I want to talk to you about things way before it becomes a problem."
10/14/2015 11:55 am ET Updated Oct 14, 2016

Ever since my kids were in preschool, I have been talking to them about drugs. While some people might think I'm crazy for doing that, I have a rational explanation. As my mom always said when she was raising us, "I want to talk to you about things way before it becomes a problem." In other words, if you wait to talk to you kids about drugs until s/he is 16 and heading out the door to a party, it might be too late.

I know many who parents think their kids are perfect and won't get into any trouble. But in my opinion, that is a dangerous belief to have. For example, there was once a show I saw on TV that did an experiment with kids. They had an actor pose as a "kidnapper" and try to lure the children into his car (there were hidden cameras, of course). All of the parents said that their kid would never get into a car with a stranger, because they taught them not to. But guess what? Every single child got into the "kidnapper's" car! Every. Single. One. Scary, isn't it?

I tell you this because as much as we parents don't want to admit it, our children don't always behave the way we want them to. We don't want them to get kidnapped, flunk out of school, be a bully, drink, or do drugs. But guess what? There are way too many children who do not live up to their parents' expectations. Kids are experimental. They are trying to figure out who they are in the world, and that makes them vulnerable to all sorts of negative behavior.

Sometimes, parents are clueless about what their children are doing. For example, have you ever heard of the "Cinnamon Challenge?" It's where a person is challenged to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon. Sounds harmless, right? WRONG. Apparently, you can die from doing this. And it's not because cinnamon is toxic, it's because the person can choke on the cinnamon and accidentally inhale it into their lungs while coughing and choking. I learned this the hard way. About four years ago, we were on a family vacation. I was with my mom, both sisters' families, and my kids. My children are the youngest, and my nieces and nephew were teenagers. So of course, the older ones decided that it would be cool to try the Cinnamon Challenge. Needless to say, I had never heard of it, but once I learned what it was about, I freaked out. I'm just happy that I had the lines of communication open enough with my children that they told me about it.

And then we have vapor cigarettes. Because I'm not a smoker, I had never heard of them. Apparently, it's getting pretty popular with kids these days. Now, I'm not saying that they are bad. In fact, they are probably safer than regular cigarettes. But if I'm unaware of them, many of you parents out there probably are too. We just need to keep up on the latest trends and talk to our kids about them. We need to teach them to make responsible choices.

Another hot topic lately is marijuana. Some states have legalized it, and so it's been up for national discussion for quite a while. There is a great debate about if it is harmful or helpful. It's important to stay educated about it yourself, and then share the information with your children.

But there are bigger issues to talk to your kids about other than just the Cinnamon Challenge, vapor cigarettes, or marijuana. Unfortunately, I know a person who went from a top-notch college graduate with a bright future ahead of her to a criminal and drug addict who got addicted to heroin and meth. Her life has been nothing but a continuous downward spiral for a few years now. So, what happened? How did she go from being on top of the world to being a criminal drug addict? The answer still evades me. But I do know that perhaps if her parents had talked to her about drugs all of her life, perhaps this wouldn't have happened. I'm not saying her parents are bad people. They aren't. They did the best they knew how to do.

So here are just a few things that I think you can do to talk to your kids about drugs:

1. Start early.

As I said in the beginning of this article, talking to you kids about important issues when it's not yet a problem is key. By the time they get to the point where they might be in a dangerous situation, they will hear your voice in their head telling then to be careful and make responsible choices.

2. Be honest.

Maybe you partied a lot in high school or college. It's ok, a lot of people did! If you did, then it's okay to be real and maybe tell them about some of your experiences and what you learned. But tell them how some things could have gone wrong and point out some bad decisions you or your friends made.

3. Talk about consequences of their actions.

Tell them how just one bad decision can ruin their lives. Hopefully you don't know anyone who messed up their lives with drugs, but if you do, talk about it. If you don't, go on the Internet and find some stories. Doing this makes it more "real" for them.

4. Have open communication.

Tell them things like, "If you are ever in trouble or in a situation that you need to get out of, call me! Tell me! I will not be angry at you. I just want you to be safe. You can tell me anything."

5. Be non-judgmental and real.

As I said in #2, many of us did things as kids that we are not necessarily proud of. Or that we look back and say, "Oh my goodness, I got lucky that I didn't kill myself or someone else!" So, understand that your child may have a fear of being judged. Create a safe place for them to come and talk.

Yes, there are "perfect" kids. And there are "bad" kids. But even "perfect" kids can succumb to peer pressure. It happens. So don't ever get too comfortable with thinking your child is immune to making bad choices. As a parent, you have to get real and take the lead. Communication is key.