Have a life-saving talk with your kids

By Dan Rubinstein
Chief Deputy District Attorney

Nearly every child will be offered drugs or alcohol before turning 18. This is especially true in Colorado. And on the list of nearly all parents’ worst fears is that their children will become drug addicts, or worse yet, that they will lose their child entirely to drugs, alcohol, or a drunk-driving/drugged-driving accident.

When and how should you start talking to your kids about problems like this? The answer is around age six.  Before you fall out of your chair, allow me to explain. You do not need to mention drugs or alcohol to have this early conversation.  Substance abuse prevention is about teaching kids to handle situations properly. Talk to your first-grader about when he was picked on during recess. How did he feel? Whom did he talk to? Did he tell a friend? A teacher? Did he talk to you about it? Did any of those things make him feel better or understand it better? 

This conversation about how they handle situations does not just help teach them to avoid relying on mind-altering drugs. It teaches them to solve problems, which is much more productive than teaching them to mask or avoid them.

If your children are getting a headache every afternoon, teach them to hydrate better, or eat a well-timed snack. You don’t want the lesson of popping an aspirin every time they get a headache to become the model that teaches them that they should smoke a joint every time they are stressed out.

In the world we live in, especially in Colorado, make no mistake, marijuana is going to be available to your kids if they want it.  Methamphetamine and heroin will probably be too. Whether or not we are able to change, you must prepare your children to properly handle the number-one force leading to substance abuse: stress. 

The world has become significantly more complicated since we were kids. Speed of information, social media, cyber-bullying and sexting are just the tip of the stress-filled iceberg facing today’s kids. As much as possible, arm them with the ability to deal with those negative forces. This will do more to decrease the chance that they’ll turn to drugs and alcohol than anything else you will do as a parent. 

Don’t misunderstand me. The drug-and-alcohol conversation should and will involve discussions of alcohol, marijuana and the harder drugs, as well. Not at age six, of course, but before they get to middle school. Despite the statewide numbers released recently, your community leaders are conducting local attitude surveys of marijuana, developing a curriculum to educate kids on brain development and the effects of drug use on their minds and bodies, while attempting to teach kids how to make informed decisions. When they want to be, these kids are smart, thoughtful and good decision-makers.

Until then, it’s also important to remember that many adults responsibly consume alcohol without developing a substance abuse problem. While it is hard to get used to the idea, that may be Colorado’s future with marijuana, as well. Keeping any type of substance consumption as use — instead of abuse — starts with a message that it is not a solution to problems, and, it should not be thought of as one.

Dan Rubinstein is the chief deputy district attorney and serves on the state Substance Abuse Task Force. He co-chaired the Mesa County Methamphetamine Task Force.


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