Inhale deeply, then tell the truth Honesty: Within every anxious parent who experimented with drugs is a cautionary lesson for children.

September 12, 1996|By Stephanie Shapiro and Linell Smith | Stephanie Shapiro and Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

You're a Baby Boomer parent in a panic. You've just read that many of your demographic peers are resigned to the likelihood that their children will try marijuana, according to a new survey by Columbia University's Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

You don't want your kids to smoke dope, but what can you say without sounding like the ultimate hypocrite? After all, you inhaled once or twice in your youthful heyday. So what should you tell your kids when they ask if you did drugs? Should you evade the question? Do you lie? Do you tell all?

Authorities across a wide spectrum of disciplines give the same advice: Be honest with your kids and use the conversation as an opportunity to talk to them about the dangers of drug use.

Lying doesn't work, says Leon Rosenberg, a parent and psychologist at Johns Hopkins' Children's Medical Center.

"You can lie to a colleague and get away with it, but the child will often sense something's not right because of the intense emotional connection between parents and children," he says. "And it will hurt the relationship between parent and child in the future."

But a truthful answer must be put into perspective, Rosenberg says. "It's important to say 'Yes, I experimented with drugs. I did this for the following reasons -- I didn't have good judgment, I was rebelling against my parents, I got swept up in a group -- that were not such good reasons. Thinking back on it now, I know it was dangerous. I feel lucky that nothing bad happened to me. I don't want you to do it because I don't want something bad to happen to you.

"The next step is to say 'Even though I did it, I don't want you to do it. And I will punish you if I catch you.' And also say 'Even though I did it, it is illegal and you cannot use the fact that I made a mistake when I was younger as an excuse for you to violate the law now.' "

In the national survey released earlier this week, about half the 1,166 parents polled said they had tried marijuana in their youth. Almost two-thirds of those who had either experimented with marijuana or smoked it regularly believe their own children will use drugs.

Robert S. Waliszewski, associate editor of Plugged In, a conservative newsletter published by the Focus on the Family organization, says he is waiting until his 6- and 9-year-old are a little older before he tells them that he did try marijuana as a teen-ager. "It's not something I laugh about," he says. "I wish I could undo that part of my life." But he plans on being honest with his kids about it.

"There is no advantage to lying," he says. "Parents need to talk to their children very openly and say 'This is what Dad did, and this is what Mom did. Here's why we believe it was wrong in the past and here's what we learned about drugs and this is why we want to protect you from them.'"

Lonnie Fisher, a parent, high school teacher and director of the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club in Franklin Square, goes a step further. He urges parents not to wait until their kids ask them about drug use.

"You need to bring it up early -- say age 9 or 10 -- and say that drugs were in your life and that you're very sorry it ever happened," he says. You have to tell kids the truth -- and let them know all the harms that go along with using drugs."

Parents should welcome their children's inquiries about past drug use as an opening for discussion, adds Victor Strasburger, a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist at the University of New Mexico and author of "Getting Your Kids to Say 'No' in the Nineties When You Said 'Yes' in the Sixties."

When children ask those kind of questions, "they're not snooping, prying or being disrespectful, they are trying to answer the question for themselves: 'Should I ever use drugs?' "

But there are limits to how much parents should tell their children, he cautions. Parents should be honest but "don't tell them you did five years parole for selling cocaine," Dr. Strasburger says. Too much information is confusing.

"At the same time, kids have a built-in lie detector; the same way parents can spot their kids fibbing."

It is, he says, "perfectly reasonable to say, 'I experimented with it. If I had it to do all over again, I don't think I would have. It was a mistake to get involved in drugs, and I hope you won't do it.' "

Pub Date: 9/12/96

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