The day will come when your child will ask you, “Did you ever do drugs?” or “Did you get drunk in high school?” Will your response be to deny, deny, deny? Find out when honesty is the best policy and when (or if) it’s ever OK to stretch the truth to fit the situation.
Parenting isn’t easy, and when your kids start to question your past habits, you may not know exactly what to tell them. We’ve consulted an expert on drug and alcohol addiction and discovered that honesty is the best policy, when done right.
The doctor is in
We were able to chat about teens, substance abuse and honesty with Dr. Karen Hylen, the primary therapist at Summit Malibu, a world class addiction and behavioral treatment center located in Malibu, California. Dr. Hylen has over 18 years of experience providing therapy to individuals who have struggled with drug or alcohol issues in their past, and in turn have to learn strategies for conveying their experience to their own children in a constructive manner.
Speak up, and speak up early. Even before your child becomes a teen, begin and maintain an open dialogue with her. “Without some sort of direction from the parents, teens will look to their peers for guidance on the subject and will, in all likelihood, receive some terrible advice,” Dr. Hylen explained. “This is a very tricky topic because a parent can use their experience, strength and hope with regard to substance abuse to teach their children a valuable lesson. However, there are definitely things that teens do not need to be privy to.”
Honesty is good, to a point
Your first instinct may be to deny your past drug or alcohol use, but you don’t have to lie as long as you’re also sharing the consequences of your actions. “Telling your child that you got drunk in high school is ‘OK,’ as long as you follow the statement with how it affected your life in a negative way,” she shared. “This strategy will allow you as a parent to relate to your child and some of the pressures they are facing while at the same time conveying the negatives associated with drinking at an early age.”
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Don’t share the fun times
Save the tales for your old chums, and resist relaying the fun times to your teen. “Stories revolving around the trouble you experienced are fine to relay to your child, but it’s important not to glamorize it,” she told us. “Don’t talk about the fun times you had — the parties, the sex or the camaraderie you may have felt at the time. Emphasize how in hindsight you regret having compromised your physical and mental well-being and the risks you now recognize you had taken and wished you hadn’t.”
Lying by omission
Let your child know that you, and other adults in his life, are available for advice and help, and don’t feel you need to disclose all the details. “It can be ‘OK’ to lie by omission about drug use, particularly because your youngster may not completely understand the implications or be mature enough to comprehend the dangers they face by using,” she said. “Use your best judgment or consult a therapist to discern what will be helpful versus detrimental to your teen when discussing this topic.”