Óscar’s parents have been asked to come in to the secondary school he attends to talk to the head teacher. It appears that Óscar, along with some other children, has been caught smoking cannabis during break. After receiving this news they feel disappointed and angry but mostly confused. How are they going to talk to their son about this?
Óscar is an adolescent who, like many others, has had his first contact with drugs knowing full well that they can harm him. But being young is all about taking risks, rebelling against the advice of adults and trying out new experiences. Óscar is no exception to the rule, curiosity has got the better of him and this is a crucial moment to talk about drugs.
Drugs such as alcohol, tobacco and cannabis are more available to adolescents than we think. They are easy to obtain and to a certain extent socially acceptable. Often, their consumption is nothing more than a way of demonstrating that they are no longer children, although they are also a means of breaking rules to help them lose their inhibitions or identify themselves with the group. Unfortunately, the generalised use of these substances usually creates the false perception that it is perfectly normal and there are no risks involved, when this is not the case.
How do we talk to them about drugs at home?
In the guide ’Let’s talk about drugs’ by the Caixa Foundation it is recommended that we should ‘speak frankly, not create unnecessarily dramatic situations and avoid at all costs a doomsday scenario which usually reinforces the children’s convictions. The most important thing is to find a straightforward, reasonable and direct tone that can be useful and effective in alerting them to the risks drugs represent. The best way is to have a realistic understanding of drugs, to be convinced of their negative consequences and to demonstrate this by personal example.
Feeling loved and listened to gives them the criteria they need to make their decisions
Scare tactics do not work in the long term and, in addition, end up rebounding on the parents. Focusing on getting values and understanding across is the most recommendable way of approaching this. But once information has been provided, the need for emotional resources arrives. ‘Educate your children and you will not need to punish them as men’ Pythagoras said. And education in this context consists of teaching them how to say No. Tell them that it is better to be honest with themselves and to accept themselves as they are. If they make a mistake or two along the way, it is better to talk about it than to hide it.
Going back to Óscar, he and his parents have had a long conversation about what had happened. They appeared relaxed and calm and allowed him to explain himself, without interrupting him, creating a climate of trust. In the end, his parents agree to let him decide what to do. ‘Look, Óscar, they say, from now on you can smoke or not. We know that if you decide to do so, you might feel more grown up and important. But if you decide not to, you will feel even more important! The decision is yours alone. But from now on, the consequences will be yours alone, too’.
Passing the responsibility of the decision on to the child, instead of simply forbidding, seems a risky approach; but in this way Óscar cannot pass the blame for his actions on to his parents. Smoking cannabis or not is now his responsibility. Óscar feels at a loss and looks at his parents, who are waiting for his response. What do you think it will be?
The SHE Foundation is committed to promoting a critical attitude and decision-making in its intervention programmes aimed at young people and adolescents.
Sources and further information:
Caixa Foundation (Let’s talk about drugs programme); La cocina de la salud (Healthy Cooking, in Spanish), published by Planeta