Mom, Did you use drugs?By
Do you feel like a hypocrite when trying to warn your kids against alcohol and drug use? There’s no need to. And there’s no need to shy away from their questions either. Research shows that admitting your own mistakes can actually be one of the best ways to build rapport and stimulate conversation. More importantly, research also shows that if you let your past prevent you from discussing these issues with your kids, your own mistakes are highly likely to be repeated by the loved ones you’re trying to protect. There’s no need to risk this unfortunate outcome. In most circumstances, your own mistakes can actually become powerful motivators for the children in your life.
How can a “bad example” actually reinforce positive choices? Well, fortunately for us, its actually a very natural and effective process. Most of us look to the mistakes made by our fellow family members as opportunities to learn. In that vain, mistakes aren’t just unavoidable, they’re indispensable. Every time our children disappoint us, they present us with an opportunity to shape future behavior. By discussing the mistake in detail, we take the first crucial step towards the development of a solution, and the prevention of future mistakes. The same is true for our own mishaps.
Very often, those who harbor guilty feelings about their past, instinctively try to conceal the experience from those who view them as role models. This instinct is borne more out of personal embarrassment, than out of a well-grounded concern for the impact it could have upon one’s children. Done properly, your disclosure can make a big difference in the life of your child, and it can even enhance your status as mentor. With a little planning and perspective, those skeletons in the closet can actually be empowering for both you and your child.
While cautioning to be mindful of age appropriate content, most experts advocate honesty and open disclosure between parents and their children; even on the topics that you may find difficult to discuss. There are several benefits to this technique. Primarily, it establishes and maintains an open rapport with your child. If you want to be able to candidly discuss difficult subjects as a family, you need to maintain an environment that supports such a dialogue. Its just not realistic to expect kids -particularly teens- to share with you, if you aren’t sharing with them. Also, by demonstrating honesty with regard to your own life, and taking responsibility for your own mistakes, you set an example for the young ones that look up to you.
So how do you spin it? Well, the wish of all parents is that our children will grow to inherit a better world, a better future and a better life than that which we ourselves have enjoyed. This desire is not an insult to our own experience, but rather an expression of love for our kids, and an acknowledgment of the investment that we parents make in the raising of our children. We want the best for them, and we want to help them achieve it. Not surprisingly, kids have the same wish…to live better than their parents, and to enjoy life to the fullest. Seizing upon this common interest is your first step.
Now a dash of hope. One of the most motivating concepts is that which expresses hope for a better future. Few vistas are more inspiring than those which envision a better society, an increasingly enriched culture, a future with less heartache, and a country where more human potential is realized. These concepts can actually be very alluring to teens, many of whom naturally embrace idealities and acknowledge their role in shaping the future. Just 15 years after stepping foot on the planet, most teens believe that they know better, and can do it better than their old fuddy-duddy parents. Use your own experience as an example of something they can do better – and be proud of. Take the opportunity to review the costs of health care, criminal justice resources, child abuse and lost human potential currently attributed to substance abuse in America. Challenge them to correct the mistakes that so many previous generations have failed to. (These statistics are readily available on our website.)
But you turned out ok? If you’re past included drug abuse, you shouldn’t have trouble finding examples of negative side-effects. Broken relationships, poor grades, dreams that never were…drug abuse invariably exacts opportunity costs upon those who could have spent their time, effort and money more wisely. If you were fortunate enough to avoid death, destruction or addiction, you surely know of an acquaintance who did not. Moreover, there are ample statistics on mortality, addiction, disease and psychopathy that demonstrate the clear link between substance abuse -including underage drinking- and the darker side of life.
In another example-setting exercise, you could take the opportunity to acknowledge the contributions that your past actions may have had upon the current state of affairs. If your generation is currently suffering due to substance abuse issues, as all of our’s are, it could be very bold of you to openly explore your own role in causing that problem. Ownership is a key aspect of progress. We take ownership of our past mistakes the same way we would try to own a small piece of any present sociological or environmental issue in need of reform. Past drug use inevitably exerted peer pressure on others and helped to finance the spread of alcohol advertising, illegal drug distribution etc.. Regardless of how small your role, you were either part of the problem, or part of the solution. Help your child understand the difference, and take ownership of their own acts.
While there’s no need to invent a past history of substance abuse, there’s certainly no need to hide from it. Using these tips as a starting point, there is little doubt that you can masterfully use your own mistakes to illuminate a better path for both you and your kids.