I have been asked that question so many times in the last 20 years. The conversation usually goes one of two ways.
Parent: My adolescent asked me if I used drugs what should I say?
Me: Did you use drugs?
Me: Then that is what you should say.
Parent: My adolescent asked me if I used drugs, what should I say?
Me: Did you use drugs?
Me: Then you should say you did not use drugs.
Parent: But I don’t want to lie to my child.
This is when I usually have to pause and take a deep breath so I do not rip my hair out or worse roll my eyes. “I do not want to lie to my child.” Let’s discuss two key words in that statement: lie and child. Are you telling me you have never lied to your child, ever? So you are the parent who told your child right away that the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and Santa Clause are not real? You told them when they were blowing out their birthday candles to not make a wish because the wish is not going to happen? Your adolescent, no matter how mature you think they are, is still a child. It is a scientific fact that their brains are not fully developed. So if you tell your child that you smoked pot or experimented with drugs, what they hear is, “My mom/dad did drugs and they are fine.” It instantly reinforces what kids believe to be true: “It won’t happen to me.”
It also reinforces what a parent wishes, hopes and prays to be true, “It won’t happen to my child.”
No one wants his or her child to become addicted. No one looks at their toddler and with any seriousness says, “Yep, future addict.” And none of the hundreds of parents that I have worked with over the years thought that their child would end up needing to go to treatment.
You may have experimented with drugs as a teenager, or young adult but if I may use an argument I hear teenagers say all of the time: “It is different, things are not like they were when you were a kid.” How many times have your children pointed that out to you? They are right. Things are very different. Drugs are very different too. They have always been dangerous, but the potency, availability, delivery, and marketing have increased. A person can very easily start using one of the most powerful and addictive substances… simply by popping a pill.
I suggest that instead of focusing on your internal struggle about lying to your children; educate yourself on how to talk to your children about the issues. Reach out to a local expert on the topic; get some suggestions on how to have a conversation about drugs and what to talk about. When your child asks this question, or any questions on the topic, it is an opportunity to have a real discussion. Take it!
Sarah Stewart, MSW, CPC, Life Achievement Coach