I do not want my son to do drugs.
He'll be a teenager soon, and it's time to have that talk with him, one of many difficult discussions to come. Abstinence-only conversations don't work. It's not real, it's not honest, and will only drive any experimentation with drugs away from my help, advice and care. It's up to me to teach him what he needs to know about alcohol and other drugs, why not to do them (at least until he's much older), and how the consequences of an arrest can hurt him more than using a drug.
But how do I talk to him about drugs, protect him from drug abuse and the harms of drug prohibition? Where do I start?
Last week, a new edition of Safety First was released by the Drug Policy Alliance, a publication that offers parents common-sense strategies in discussing and dealing with adolescent drug use with new helpful sections on drug use and brain development and marijuana legalization.
I was raised by my mom, a very traditional Puerto Rican woman who immigrated to the New York City area in the '70s, and drugs was a very taboo subject when I was growing up. In fact, we spent more time talking about people we knew who were in prison because of drugs or struggling with addiction than the drugs themselves.
Even at our Thanksgiving gathering a few weeks ago, she looked around and whispered the word "drogas", when asking if a family member had an addiction, as if it was so shameful, it could not be spoken. As a result of this long-held belief, I took many risks when I was young and curious about alcohol and other drugs, risks that I want my son to avoid.
Teenagers will make their own choices, just as we did. In helping my son navigate peer pressure and make better decisions, safety is my highest priority and it should also be his. I want to have an open and honest dialogue with my son about these issues and will talk to him about alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs and distinguish between use and abuse.
Safety First guides parents by telling them that a reality-based approach enables teenagers to make responsible decisions by: providing honest, science-based information; encouraging moderation if youthful experimentation persists; prioritizing safety through personal responsibility and knowledge; and promoting an understanding of the legal and social consequences of drug use.
This is great advice for parents and will be invaluable when I talk with my son about drug use, but the last point, is what resonates most for me and our family: promoting an understanding of the legal and social consequences of drug use.
When I speak to my son, I will let him know that drug laws are applied disproportionally to Latinos and Blacks, and that "experimentation" can have serious legal and social consequences more so for us than others. And that is what I fear the most.
From school-based drug testing, drug-sniffing dogs and zero tolerance policies to expulsion from school, denial of college loans and a criminal record, the drug war has done nothing to protect our children and has made their lives more dangerous.
As a mom, I know that these are deeply personal issues, and I know that there are no easy, simple answers to these questions. Ultimately, sound science, education, loving communication, and most important, safety, will guide my conversations with my son.
Melissa Franqui is a communications coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance.
This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog: http://www.drugpolicy.org/