Kids watch adults. If you’re a parent, they’re watching you. If you’re a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or older sibling, they’re watching you. We teach our kids by example, whether we’re attending church, dealing with finances, or interacting with each other. We understand our attitudes towards courtesy, politics, and racism have deep influences on our children.
When it comes to alcohol and drug abuse, however, our actions often contradict our parenting advice. A parent sends a mixed message if he cautions children against drinking, but “needs” a drink to “chill out” after work. So too does the parent who takes a firm anti-drug stance but smokes. Kids notice these discrepancies, and they’re more influenced by what we do than what we say.
Your Attitudes = Their Attitudes
This doesn’t mean you should abstain from the occasional glass of wine or cold beer, but it does mean we need to consider the message we send our children. By claiming we “need” a drink to calm down or relax, we instill the idea alcohol is a necessity. By overindulging at family gatherings and parties, we suggest alcohol is safe and drunkenness is socially acceptable — indeed a rite of passage into adulthood.
How we use prescription meds also affects our children’s chance of future drug experimentation and abuse. Most parents impress on children the dangers of prescription drugs and with good reason: deaths due to prescription overdose are four times higher today than they were in 1999.
But these drugs are often stored with less care than household cleaning products. The same parent who locks up cleaning products leaves highly potent, dangerous medication unsecured in the bathroom medicine cabinet. Locking up medication — and alcohol for that matter — sends a message to children: these are dangerous items.
Asking the Hard Questions
Sending the right message requires some effort. Joking with a friend about college marijuana use, for instance, is at odds with a zero-tolerance drug message. So does laughing at a television show when drunkenness is played for laughs.
Monitoring your attitudes towards substance abuse is a 24-hour job, but then, so is parenting. The occasional slip-up won’t doom your child to drug and rehab programs, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you accidentally fall off-message. Taking a cavalier attitude towards alcohol or drugs, however, can give kids the wrong impression about the seriousness of substance abuse.