My daughter came home toting a flier announcing Red Ribbon Week at her school. It’s one of those festive and exciting events she’s been eagerly awaiting since enrolling in kindergarten.
“…And there’s pajama day, and silly hair day!” she exclaimed to me months ago when I asked her why she was excited to start kinder.
Her 10-year-old aunt told her these were some of the highlights of elementary school. Wearing mismatched clothes or showing team spirit on certain days of the year.
Monday students were encouraged to wear red to be “REDy to say no to drugs,” get it?
Today she wore her pajamas because students are “waking up drug free.” And so on through the remainder of the week.
As I drove my daughter to school yesterday morning I looked at her eager face in my rearview mirror. Dressed in red from head to toe I thought I hope my little girl never does drugs.
It seems crazy to even fathom when you’re considering a five year old, but I guess there’s a reason schools start these initiatives early. We should have these conversations early, right? Keep the lines of communication open. Ok, yea sure, something like that.
With this in mind I opened the can of worms.
“Do you know what Red Ribbon Week is about?” I asked her.
“Red Ribbon Week?”
“Yes, that’s why you’re doing all of the different dress-up days this week. It’s about teaching people to say no to drugs.”
“What are drugs?” She asked me.
Oh dear, maybe this wasn’t a conversation for a five-minute drive to school.
“Well…” I started. “They’re bad. Well, there’s different kinds of drugs. But the kind we’re talking about here are bad. But sometimes kids think they’re cool or fun. But they really make you sick.” I was struggling. I clearly didn’t think this through.
“But why do they think they’re fun?” She asked. A logical question.
“I’m not sure, I’ve never tried them, but I think it makes them feel funny, and they think it’s good, but it’s not really good for them. Mommy said no to drugs.”
“And you want me to say no too?” She asked. Probably hoping this was the end of this strange conversation.
“Yes. Plus, it’s against the law.” I added, remembering that minor detail, and hoping maybe it would help drive the point home.
“What’s the law?” We were almost to school and this conversation wasn’t going quite like I had envisioned.
“The law are rules that are put into place. Like this red light. I shouldn’t run the red light because it’s the law. And you could get in trouble if you break the law.”
“Like when you didn’t come to a complete stop at that stop sign?” Oh, she remembered that police encounter from a few weeks ago.
“Yes, well, that was an accident, but yes, I shouldn’t have broken the law.”
We pulled into the drop off line right as the bell rang and she hurried off to class giving me a quick “I love you” smile and wave goodbye.
I sighed and laughed as I replayed our conversation in my head. How do you even talk to a 5-year-old about drugs? Did I fail miserably?
The more I think about it, and the more research I’ve done on the topic (which maybe would have been better served doing before bringing it up to her) I think I did ok by starting the conversation, but I should have been more clear about the difference between good and bad drugs, and explaining that when we use drugs the doctor gives to us when we’re sick, it’s ok.
October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month, which is abusing those good drugs, including even some over-the-counters would fall into. I’ll clear all that up soon.
I also probably could have picked a better time to start such a serious conversation. It may have been better to have over breakfast or dinner so she had more time to ask all of her questions.
That said, just having the conversation at all, establishing our values, and building up her self-esteem helps. I found this article about how to talk to a 5-year-old about drugs helpful.
According to StopMedicineAbuse.org, Teens who learn a lot about the risks of drugs from their parents are 50 percent less likely to use drugs. And according to RedRibbon.org, only a quarter of teens report having these conversations.
Ready for a few more depressing yet enlightening statistics?
- Approximately 1 in 30 teens have abused cough medicine to get high.
- One in three teens in grades 9-12 knows someone who has abused cough medicine to get high.
- Teens are almost three times as likely to trust their friends as a source of information than their family (including siblings).
- Almost 35 percent listed friends as a top source and only 8 percent listed family.
Are you kidding me?
The internet is a huge source for teens curious about experimenting with drugs. Thankfully there are great campaigns out there like WhatisDXM.com that are intercepting these searches and giving kids better information. And there’s more information for parents too. Because goodness, we need all the help we can get navigating these waters.
So I’m feeling a little ahead of the game now. Don’t mistake that for confidence. More than ever I’m wanting to press the slow motion button on the growth of my kids. I’m not ready for these deep topics! But then again, maybe since we’re starting now, I’ll have lots and lots of practice by the time they’re teens.
How did you bring up the topic of drugs to your kids? Did your conversation go better than mine?
This story was sponsored by the CHPA’s educational foundation KnowYourOTCs program. As always, all opinions are my own