When my youngest son was 6 years old, he took a trip to the police station to get the spiel about all things not to do in order to stay out of jail.
When I picked him up, he looked a little forlorn. “How was your visit to the police?” I asked.
“Good, but I’m afraid you are going to be arrested.”
“Me? Why would I get arrested?”
“Because you are always drinking something when you drive!”
Talking to kids about drugs and alcohol is tricky. Early as a primary teacher, I learned that when we talk to young children about the Word of Wisdom, we must be specific. Don’t use idioms, metaphors or similes. Young children need to know real words. Simply saying,”We don’t drink!” puts young children in danger of becoming dehydrated and forcing them to sneak a drink of water. Instead, tell them that some drinks have bad things in them that can make us very sick. It is that easy.
One little child was concerned because his father “drank” root beer. The word “beer” in any context can force a kid to think he is drinking something dangerous. Being offered root beer, butter beer or ginger beer can put children in some kind of moral crisis. Some kids hear parents grumble about beer commercials yet all kids know is that half naked people are drinking out of a can. Well, Mom and Dad drink out of cans, too. It is all very confusing if you make it that way. So don’t make it that way.
If you are lucky(?), you might have family members or friends who can act as examples as to why not to use drugs or alcohol. I think it’s a mistake to cover up for Aunt Rosie’s bad behavior if she is stoned or drunk at family holiday parties. Usually by age 8 or 9 kids will recognize that Aunt Rosie does and says stupid things. If they are your children then they are probably to polite to ask you in front of Aunt Rosie why she acts that way, but they eventually WILL ask you. Then, because you have already taught them since they were about 6 or 7 about illicit drugs and alcohol, you can say that this is the reaction a body and mind has to bad drugs and alcohol. A followup question to them such as “do you want to ever act like that?” should hopefully be rebutted by a “No, way!” or some similarly exuberant reply in the negative. (Some kids who are bluntly honest will just come out and asked the crazy acting person if they are drunk… when that happens, just sit back and watch what the drunk person says)
Family Home Evenings should include discussion about unhealthy substances. Many themes throughout the year can track back to the idea that we should treat our body well. “Our bodies are temples,” “Our bodies are a gift from God that should be treated well,” “God has big plans for all of us, so we need to stay healthy,” are just a few theme ideas.
Consistently use the same descriptive terms. Slogans like “Don’t Drink and Drive,” and “Say no to drugs,” are not for young kids. Everyone drinks and drives from the perspective of a child and they have no clue what drugs are. Look for opportunities to explain what this means. For instance, we explain early on that there are drinks that contain a chemical that kills your brain cells and makes your mind not be able to think, and your body not be able to move when you tell it to. Kids as young as 4 can understand chemicals. By then they have been exposed to magic potions and poisons in stories. Maybe not your first time reading Snow White, but on further readings, you can talk about the poison apple as having been dipped in a chemical. Perhaps Sleeping Beauty got pricked by the spindle that maybe have had a chemical on it that put her to sleep. In Ratatouille, an excellent animated movie, Linguini drinks wine until he gets wacky and silly. Did they notice that the chef poured it for him so that Linguini would get wacky and silly? Not a good friend, huh! Point out that he drank alcohol which is a chemical that makes people do stupid and sometimes dangerous things. I also add the fact that they don’t show Linguini spending the night throwing up in the bathroom and having a bad headache all the next day.
It gets easier and easier to talk about drugs/alcohol once you start because alcohol and drugs/chemicals are everywhere. You can find examples of drunkeness and drug induced delusions in all sorts of movies and TV. And those pesky beer commercials? Well, tell them the truth. They, the owners of the company, put attractive half naked people on the beach to sell the alcohol chemical in cans. The paid actors aren’t really drinking it but they are supposed to pretend they are having fun because they are drinking the beer. Remind them that, going to the beach (ball game, camping, boating, skiing) is fun on its own and you don’t need stinky beer that makes you do stupid things and then makes you throw up, to make those activities fun. Get them to be wise about marketing tactics early in their life.
Let them know that drugs are chemicals, too. Some chemicals are good for us and some are bad. Some will even kill us! Tell them that some people use the word “drugs” to describe healthy and unhealthy chemicals. Let them know that the slogans telling them not to do drugs are telling them not to use the BAD drugs. You can tell them it’s easier for people to remember the slogan “Don’t do Drugs!” than to remember “Don’t do marijuana, heroine, cocaine, crack, ecstasy, mescal, opium….” They won’t remember most of the specific drug words, but they will understand that people change words and phrases to make them easier to remember.
Unless you are one of those families where you have generations of sober members, chances are you have users and abusers of drugs and alcohol in your home once in a while. We know folks who do not allow relatives to bring liquor in the house, but we DO allow it. We like to have relatives visit and we don’t want to put restrictions on them that make it difficult for them to visit. Alcoholics and drug users don’t like to be separated from their substances. But, the decision to allow or disallow it in your home with guests is too subjective to have a one size fits all policy. Each of you have to make that decision on a per family, per individual basis. Allowing booze in a house if someone is battling alcoholism or working toward sobriety, may not be ideal. Neither is it a good idea to allow a relative visit whose heroine habit influences them to steal. So, think through your rules, be charitable in your thoughts, but diligent in your safety. Though we don’t say anything about the beer in the cooler or fridge, we can’t allow drunkeness in our own home. Of course, at family events, we have no real over arching control, but we would never stomp our self righteous feet and leave if someone overdoes the booze, unless they get vulgar or violent. Only then will we leave. Remember, its a blessing to be someone’s designated driver.
If you have a spouse who is an addict or who uses then be honest with the Bishop and seek help. The church has excellent resources and can find you help. The worst kind of parent is an addict and an addict’s life is a life unlived. It’s a fact that being under the control of a chemical is not Heavenly Father’s plan for you or your family. Start telling your kids this fact early and from every angle you can think of.