Talking to (Little) Kids about Drugs and Other Hard Stuff

PICT0194-185“I’m feeling sad today,” I said when I sat down for dinner tonight with my four children. James is out of town. The baby banged a spoon on the side of her wooden highchair. Hesperus fidgeted. Etani made train tracks in his rice. Athena looked concerned.

My friend Katie’s son died last night.”

“Oh no,” Hesperus said. “But we were just talking about him yesterday.”

“I didn’t know that he had died,” I said.

“Why did he die?” Etani asked.

“He died because he took drugs and they made his body and his brain sick.” I said. “A lot of people think drugs are cool. They think it’s fun to take drugs. But if you take too much drugs can kill you.”

“We know that already, Mom,” Hesperus said, still looking sad.

“But what if your friends pressure you to try them?” I said. I had everyone’s full attention now, except the baby’s. She flung the spoon onto the floor and smeared her hands in the cap to the tahini.

“I know,” Etani shouted, standing on his chair. “I’ll just say you’re a stupid head!”

“Etani shut up!” Hesperus said.

“I have an idea,” I said. “Let’s practice.”

“I WANT TO GO FIRST!” Etani roared.

“Okay, I’ll be your really good friend, who you really like. Pretend I’m Finn. ‘Hey, Etani, check this out. I have some cool mushrooms here. Guess what, if you eat them, they make you feel really good. Want to come over to my house and try them with me?!’”

Etani hesitated, caught up in the game. I could tell that he DID want to say yes. That he wanted to be THE FIRST person to sign up to try the mushrooms.

“Hey dude, no,” he said, almost weakly. “Maybe tomorrow. Maybe I’ll try them tomorrow.”

Athena waved her hand. “Can I go next?”

“Okay. Pretend I’m W. Hey Athena! Want to come with us and try this stuff I got? It’s called LSD! Look! You are so artistic, Athena, and it makes you even more creative so I know you’ll like it.”

“W.,” Athena interrupted. “LSD is a drug. It will not make me more creative. Drugs are illegal. Drugs are bad for your brain. I do NOT want to try that.”

“Oh come on, don’t be a spoil sport. They’re not really bad, that’s just what your mom wants you to think.” Etani giggled. Athena, who’s nine, looked dead serious.

“I know they really are bad W. I don’t want to do drugs.”

We stopped playing pretend for a minute. “You know,” I told my kids. “I had a lot of friends in high school and college who did a lot of drugs.”

“You did?” Hesperus said.

“I did. I didn’t feel mad at them. I didn’t ever do drugs with them. But it made me really sad that they were doing so many drugs. Usually you do drugs because you want to escape from your real life, because things aren’t going the way you want them to, or because you feel unhappy and you’re trying to feel better…”

“Mommy, I want a turn,” Hesperus said.

“Okay. I’ll be your friend C. ‘Hey Hesperus, I’m feeling really sad today.’”

“You are?” My daughter asked sympathetically. “What’s wrong?”

“My mom and dad are fighting again and I’m just really depressed.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“But, hey, listen. My older brother gave me these pills. He said if I take them they’ll make me really really happy. Want to come over to my house after school? We can try them together.”

“C,” Hesperus said. “Those are drugs.”

“No they’re not! I would never do drugs. They’re medicine. They’re like aspirin or something.”

“No,” Hesperus said, her voice very serious. “They aren’t medicine, they’re drugs. You can become addicted if you try them. They won’t really make you happy. They might make you feel good for a little while but they’re actually really bad for you and they’ll hurt your brain.”

“But Hesperus everyone’s trying them. A. and H. told me they took some and–”

“A. and H. shouldn’t have done that,” Hesperus countered. “And just because they did doesn’t mean it’s right.”

“Good job,” I said, coming out of character. “Etani, I think the way Hesperus and Athena responded might be more effective than telling your friend, ‘Dude, maybe tomorrow.’”

Etani giggled. He’s only six. “But Mom, I don’t know what drugs look like!” he said. “So I’ll probably want to try them because I won’t know what they are.”

This wasn’t our first conversation about drugs and it won’t be our last. Too soon my children will be experiencing the kind of peer pressure we were role-playing, too soon they’ll be making their own decisions. As much as I am desperate to keep them safe, I know I can’t stop them from hurting themselves. But I can try to do everything I can to keep them grounded and to empower them to make good decisions when I’m not around to intercede.

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11 thoughts on “Talking to (Little) Kids about Drugs and Other Hard Stuff”

  1. Clap, clap, clap! That’s me applauding this little scene. So very impressed. I wish Michelle Obama would do an infomercial like this with her girls so parents across the country would take note and understand how to approach the subject.
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..Preservation Hall Goes to the Birds … =-.

  2. I’m applauding too, Jennifer. Growing up in the ’70s, my generation struggled with this issue bigtime. And it didn’t go away once we became parents ourselves. For me, it was always a matter of hanging with the right crowd, and having parents who were lovingly vigilant and caring. They set limits for me, yet trusted me, and I’ve raised my son (now 24) the same way. Luckily, my son hung around with a crowd of well-behaved kids (geeks and nerds, as they dubbed themselves) in a very small school where it was easy to keep an eye on everything. But the kids were not perfect and we, parents and teachers, never took anything for granted. My husband and I always discussed these difficult issues with our son around the family dinner table, in the car, every chance we had. Good luck to you, and thanks for your thoughtful post
    .-= Cindy L.´s last blog ..Fair-weather friend =-.

  3. Great post, Jennifer. I love how your kids rose to the occasion. I’m glad you have this dialogue with them now. I know it’s been important for me with my daughter to keep those lines of communication open. She’s only 11. The teen years loom and are still terrifying to me.

  4. Thanks for writing about all this, Jennifer. My oldest is ten and it hadn’t occurred to me yet that I should start talking to him about drugs.

  5. Excellent role playing. I think educating kids early before they begin is very important. Etani’s response sounded like curiosity to me. And, it’s not, “say maybe to drugs”. If they know what will happen, they won’t try. Remember, he once told me it’s okay to take risks. Some people love a dare. But, for example, they know not to run into the street in front of a car because they know what will happen. The key is to not get distracted or caught off guard by flowery language like”cool mushrooms”. The girls sound pretty steadfast. There is a powerful ad running in prime time tv that shows this lovely girl saying, “I will only try it once”. Next scene she is clearly addicted and not lovely, anymore. Scary stuff.

  6. I think it’s excellent that you’ve done this role playing. It’s so important that kids know to say no. Peer pressure is certainly a concern, but so are the drugs that come disguised as candy, so kids try them without knowing that they should say no. I’m not a follower of Katie’s blog, but I’ve been feeling very sad about her loss, too. It feels close to home for me, as I’ve got an almost-18-year-old. So sad.

  7. This is great, thank you for letting us in on the role playing. I love that you included all of them, even the younger one. All this dialogue and the continued dialogue will serve them and all of you in a big, big way.

    Both my spouse and I did lots and lots of drugs and drinking while growing up and in early adulthood. I have always wondered what to say about that and then also what to say about peer pressure, etc. My daughter is almost 6 so while I don’t feel the need to talk about it tomorrow, I know some dialogue is near. Thank you again. A.

  8. It’s a scary world out there. My parents talked to me all the time about being anti-drug and anti-smoking. Even my grandparents talked about it. I’ll never forget my grandmother telling me she’d still love me if I made bad choices, but she’d just be so disappointed. The thought that she could be disappointed in my choices was very motivating to me. I never touched drugs. I talk to my kids all the time. I hope they never touch them either. It may be about time to bring the big guns in though-and ask THEIR grandma to have the talk with them too. The more adults that kids have in their lives to look up to (and live up to) the better!

  9. My husband and I were up late into last night talking about this.

    Today I had a talk with my almost-4-year-old about taking care of our bodies. I told her that our bodies are so special and amazing, but that there are “icky chemicals” that are bad for our brains and bodies. I think this is a good foundation for later talks about drugs and abuse, or at least I hope it is.

    After this recent news, I spent today being extra cuddly with my kids.

    Thanks for sharing your sorrow with us Jennifer, my heart goes out to Katie and her family.

  10. Thank you, Jennifer, for this concrete script. I find it very helpful and I’m sure my husband will too. With such small children it seems incomprehensible that we have to talk about this already but Henry’s sad story has been such a wakeup call.

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