Talking to your child about the dangers of drugs
It’s never too early to educate your child about the dangers of drugs. You should encourage discussion about them and make sure your child knows to tell you if someone offers them drugs.
Signs that your child may be using drugs
Possible signs of drug use can include changes in your child’s:
- choice of friends
- eating and sleeping habits
- openness with you
These changes can also be part of growing up and a young person who is not using drugs could show the same changes. If you have suspicions, speak to your child but don’t jump to any conclusions.
What to do if your child is taking drugs
If you discover your child is taking drugs, your natural reaction may be to panic. However, it’s important you stay calm, talk to them and reassure them.
- let them explain in their own words what they've done
- avoid asking them why they've taken drugs as it will make them defensive
- not get hung up on blame
- let them know exactly how you feel about the situation
If your child does have a drug problem, it’s important they know you will support them. This could be in the form of answering simple questions or helping them through the difficult process of kicking the habit.
Let them know you trust them, but at the same time feel free to show disappointment if this trust is broken.
Finding out more
When you do talk:
- try to talk to your child about the issue because if you don’t, they may end up getting the wrong information
- get someone to help you — it helps to have someone else in the room whom your child likes and respects
- you need to learn the risks, the consequences
- make time to listen
- respect their views if you want the same in return
- avoid asking 'why?' — it will put them on the defensive
- don't get hung up on blame — the future is more important
- it's better to know the truth — there's no evidence that talking about drugs leads to drug use
- give the child space — talk about what they are going through, be interested in what they are doing and encourage them to have friends and interests
- assumptions can be dangerous — let them explain in their own words what's going on for them and treat what they say seriously
- set clear limits and boundaries and stick to them — they need to know your feelings
- they're never too young for a chat — don't discourage the conversation and encourage them to tell you if they are ever offered drugs
- for older children, starting secondary schools is a difficult and vulnerable time – they will get education on this issue in school
- take your time and be ready to listen — be patient, and make sure that you won't be interrupted
- get to know your child’s friends, their parents and where your child goes when they are away from home
- remember the three Rs: reassure, reassure, reassure
If your child has a problem with drugs
If your child does have a drug problem, it is important for them to know that you will be there for them - from answering simple questions to helping them through difficult times. It's worth telling them that you trust them, but at the same time feel free to show disappointment if this trust is broken.
To help someone with an alcohol or drug problem, search the local directories of services to find support and advice in your area.
Advice for parents
As a parent you may want further information about types of drugs and their consequences.
Organisations such as the Parenting NI are available to discuss issues and can pass you on to other organisations at a community level.
Most young people who try drugs do not go on to become problem users.
- Getting help with drug or alcohol problems
- Parenting NI website
- Drugs and alcohol directories of services
- Information on psychoactive substances
- Drugs and solvents
What the law says
If your child is caught in possession of a controlled drug they have committed a criminal offence.
Many children and young people are unclear about the possible consequences in later life. If your child commits an offence, this will be recorded by the police. As a result, the young person could be prevented from taking up certain jobs or from visiting other countries.
For a first offence your child may receive a warning or a caution. If they are between ten and 17 years old and commit further offences, including selling or smuggling drugs, they could be dealt with by a Youth Court.
As a parent you risk breaking the law by turning a blind eye. If you know that your child is sharing illegal drugs with a friend in your home and you do nothing to stop it, you may be committing an offence.
If you allow the smoking of cannabis, or the use of any other illegal drug in your home, this is also an offence and you could lose your job as a result.
If you take drugs from your child, you must either destroy them or hand them to the police as soon as possible. By having the drugs in your possession you may be committing an offence, even if you have no intention of using them.
Knowing where your child is
In order to keep track of where your child is, you should ask questions like:
- what company they are keeping
- who the parents, guardians or carers of their friends are
- why they are always late home
- why they do not want to get up in the morning
- why they are not eating
- whether they are missing school
- why they lock their bedroom door
- why they have so much money and where did it come from
- what they are doing when they are out
Ask these questions in a caring way. They should not show distrust and a lack of confidence in your child and always keep lines of communication open at all times.