How to talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Mar 19, 2015 4:18 AM

(Harrisburg) -- Parenthood includes a never-ending list of questions. But one of the most nerve-racking times is when a child enters the early teenage years. Thoughts may turn to how to keep your kid away from alcohol and drugs. While there is no one answer, there are strategies for success.

Cindy Heath remembers the 1990's and early 2000's, when she says there weren't many places for parents to turn for advice on keeping kids away from drugs.

Heath, who lives in Fawn Grove, York County, says her son Adam suffered from addiction starting in his young teens.

By 2007, he was dead, killed in a car accident that had roots in his addiction.

"I just remember how hard it was to approach my son. It's so difficult, as a parent you want so much to fix them, and that's really what you cannot do. You can't. You have to be the heavy, and be the parent, and not always be popular. And that's hard, it's really hard," she says.

Many didn't want to talk about drug addiction back then. She says others would try to brush it aside.

"My son lived with a lot of shame, even after he came back from rehab and treatment - how to make people be forgiving, and give him a chance again," she adds.

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Drug education has come a long way since those days. More people are willing to talk about it, first of all.

Take the program Drugs 101: What Parents Need to Know that's offered by the Byrnes Health Education Center, headquartered in York County (A free presentation of the program is at WITF on March 28th. Register here).

The program has been around for about 10 years, but it's not stagnant. Just like the drug market, the lesson plans are adapted based on what's changing hands on the streets every day.

"This is something where you have to keep educating yourself, what are the trends and what are the new things out there. And this program is really to just help parents look for those indicator signs and symptoms," says Jamie Reisinger, director of education services at the center.

It shows a variety of situations - including a bedroom scene with more than 80 indicators of what parents should watch. Educators also act out conversations to give parents ideas on how to handle situations.

Says Reisinger: "What we're trying to do is just plant a seed with parents, hey if you're not doing this, maybe hink about trying this approach. We're not saying this is the best way."

Dr. Sharon Kingston, professor of psychology at Dickinson College in Carlisle, studies strategies to use when talking to kids about drugs.

She says it's important to lay a good foundation years before someone might offer a child a puff of a cigarette or a swig of a beer.

"They need to think about overall quality of relationship with your child, especially as their child starts to go into adolescence and things might get a little bit more difficult as the child sort of maybe starts to rebel, or want to become more independent," she says.

When the drug and alcohol conversation happens - and Dr. Kingston says it needs to happen - it's important to keep the content age appropriate. She's a parent of a 10 year old herself, and has already started to point out some of the dangers.

And to those parents who think kids don't listen?

"Based on what we know as researchers, interviewing kids and surveying them, that they are in fact hearing it. They may not want to admit it to you, but they are hearing the messages and those messages are making a difference."

People like Cindy Heath, who lost her son eight years ago while he was battling addiction, hope other parents take advantage of the help available, because she knows the easiest way to cure drug or alcohol addiction is to never allow it to start.

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