Drug education is a complicated issue. Often, young people are expected to take whatever education is given to them at face value, and expect that the “adults” – their teachers, mentors, elders, and parents – are knowledgeable (and truthful) about the issues. However, when the time comes to ask the really complicated questions about drugs and drug use, youth are left at a dead end, with those they are supposed to trust to know things not having the answers. For many young people who choose to experiment, this leaves them with little choice but to use a “trial and error” method and hope for the best. This can lead to young people putting themselves at unnecessary risk of harm as a result of not having the information needed to make the best choices about their use. For others, it means taking on the responsibility of doing the research themselves, and learning what they can about the drugs they may already be using, in order to reduce those harms. It also means young people may know a little more about the topic than their parents or elders, and presents an opportunity to have open and honest conversations with their parents and other elders about what they know.
The responsibility of having conversations about drugs usually falls on parents, with the many tips and guides created for this purpose tailored to that demographic. But what happens if you, young person, want to take the initiative and start that conversation yourself? Read on for stories and tips from SSDP rock stars who have been there.
Amy Hildebrand ‘16, chapter leader from DePaul University in Chicago took the approach of helping her parents understand the policy and legal consequences regarding use”
“My parents were really responsive to the legal/monetary responsibility aspect of “in home” weed consumption. I grew up in a heavily policed small town, it wasn’t a question of if I was going to “get caught” but when and how. They knew it would be more detrimental for my future and more costly for our family if I faced legal trouble. Experimenting in a safe space is the best option.
I stressed my desire not to have to lie. I was stubborn, I told them I was already making my own consumption choices and would continue to do so. Any consequences would have only deteriorated our family dynamic, because I could have lied and snuck around. We won’t lie to our parents unless they make us feel like we have to. We’d much rather feel comfortable telling the truth.”
Here are some additional tips from Amy:
If you can’t retain your cool (i.e., an even tone of voice), resort to sending emails or text messages. Provide links to websites, articles, and information. Taking this more removed, academic approach might show your parents you mean business and also eliminates the possibility of a screaming match.
Especially important for those under 18, do what you can to ensure you graduate high school without issue. Try not to get in trouble at school or with the law. Be especially careful and smart so as not to give your parents reason to take issue with your actions. I found it to be a give and take of mutual respect.”
Andi Roets ‘14 of UConn SSDP relied on science to help his mother better understand:
“My mom was initially very concerned about my use of psychedelics and marijuana. She was raised in Minnesota in the 80’s, and had very little experience with drug culture, people who use drugs, or had any actual drug education. When she caught me with weed for the first time, she asked me to be honest with her from then on, and so I was, and am. I tell her more than she needs to know (she’s told me so), but over the last six years she has come to see that my experiences with substances have not turned me into any number of stereotypes or ruined my life. Self-disclosure about my use has been the most effective means of changing my parent’s mind, but I know that isn’t an option for everyone. In addition to telling her about my own experiences, I sent her all of the academic papers I was reading for school; the actual research into psychedelics, cannabis, the roots of addiction, and harm reduction efforts, and that was very helpful in bringing her around to a much less conservative stance. She even shares news articles about the research on Facebook now! Sharing research articles is more effective if your parents studied psychology or the social sciences, (I lucked out), but if your parents are down with science at all it might help. Conversations with parents about drug use are usually tricky, and at least in my experience very emotional, so it can often be difficult to articulate what we’ve learned from our research/peers. Giving that research directly to your parents before having a conversation about drugs with them can be very helpful if they’re willing to take the time to educate themselves with actual research.”
Here are some additional tips from Andi:
“If you are a person who uses drugs, be open and honest with your parents about your drug use as long as your relationship allows for it.
Educate your parents, send them the research, engage with them about it.”
If you’re a parent and would like to have an open and honest conversation with your young person about drugs and drug use, we recommend checking out DPA’s Safety First resource.
If you’re a young person and what to educate yourself to be better able to have open and honest conversations about drugs with your loved ones and friends, check out our Just Say Know Peer Education Program or email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions!
Have you had “the talk” with your parents? What was helpful for you? Share your tips and experiences with me at email@example.com.