Our Kids’ Exposure to Drugs
About the Guest
What would your child do if offered drugs? Exposure to drugs is occurring at younger and younger ages. Australian psychologist and former pastor Glenn Williams encourages parents to talk honestly to their school age children about the danger of drugs.
Glenn WilliamsGlenn Williams is the former Chief Operating Officer of Focus on the Family. Before coming to Focus' headquarters in the U.S., he founded Focus on the Family Australia where he served as CEO for 10 years. Williams recently returned to Australia to work at the Family Challenge family psychology clinic. Williams has authored two books: Talking Smack and Your Marriage Can Survive a Newborn. He and his wife, Natalie, have three children.
What would your child do if offered drugs?
Our Kids’ Exposure to Drugs
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, October 25th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’re going to talk today about how to talk to your kids about drugs. So stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Do you remember? Did you ever get offered drugs in junior high or high school?
Dennis: Let me tell you something. Ozark, Missouri wasn’t the end of the world.
Bob: But you could see it from there?
Dennis: But you could see it from there. I do not ever remember seeing marijuana, speed, LSD, all the stuff that I did encounter in college, but I’m sure it was there.
Bob: But you had no idea -- If you’d wanted to go get marijuana, you wouldn’t have known where to go.
Dennis: No. I was so naïve that early in my adulthood somebody talked about ‘rolling their joints,’ and I thought they were talking about their hands.
Bob: (laughter) Their knuckles. I would say that was naïve.
Dennis: I was a little naïve about the whole thing, but our guest on the broadcast today is not. Glenn Williams joins us on FamilyLife Today. Glenn, welcome to our broadcast.
Glenn: Thanks, Dennis. Great to be here.
Dennis: Glenn is an Australian psychologist, pastor, author. He has worked at Focus on the Family for more than seven years, and he and his wife, Natalie, have three children. In fact, your children are just on the cusp . . .
Glenn: They really are.
Dennis: . . . of what you’ve written about in your book, Talking Smack. How concerned are you about preparing elementary, pre-junior high children for encountering drugs today?
Glenn: Very concerned. I think it’s the ideal stage in which to talk to our kids, literally. If we want to wait until our children get to the teen years, until they get to a situation, Dennis, that you described earlier – about potentially being offered something – a drug, whether it is marijuana or something else -- if you’re going to wait until that moment before you want to talk to your children about this issue, it’s way too late. Ideally, if your children are in elementary school, you have plenty of opportunities and teachable moments to actually talk to the issue.
Bob: You know, I think about talking to a seven- or an eight-year-old about drugs and I think, “Are they even going to understand what you’re talking to them about?” I mean, they are seven or eight years old!
Glenn: Yes, and that’s a fair question, I think. It’s a question a lot of parents would have. But let me give you an example. Ben, my son, who was nine years old at the time, was actually watching football, and on came a half-time interview about one of the players who had been using steroids. My son called them “steroods.” But he said, “Dad, what’s steroids?” And so we had a chance to talk about it. I said, “Well, actually steroids are drugs, they are chemicals that actually help you to grow stronger and perform better.”
This is my nine-year-old son saying, “But Dad, that’s unfair to everybody else.” I’m thinking “How am I going to explain this?” but my nine year old was intuitive enough to recognize the difference that this would make to the playing field. And so we had a great chance just to talk about that.
Dennis: Here’s what parents who have children in the elementary years of school are facing: more than one-third of twelve-year-olds to 17-year-olds, 8.7 million of them, can obtain prescription drugs, to get them within one day. Now think about that.
One-third of your children’s classmates, starting in sixth grade, seventh grade, can figure out how to get prescription drugs. Sixty five percent of the same age group who drink, get drunk at least once a month. A twelve-year-old? Where are they getting the booze? Where are they getting it?
Glenn: Well, you know what, some of them are getting it from home and some are getting it from friends, and some are getting it from their peers. Again, one of the things that we just ask parents to be aware of – if you have alcohol in the home, or for that matter, if you have prescription medication in the home, which most families do, just be mindful of what you do have and whether or not it’s under lock and key or whether or not it’s in a safe place – that you know exactly what’s there and what may be, at a later time, missing.
Bob: It’s interesting that you bring up prescription medication, because we tend to think of drug use as marijuana or cocaine or crack or some of the street drugs. But there is a broad segment of the population, a broad segment of young people, who are experimenting with prescription medications that are being prescribed for one thing but are getting snuck out of the house for something else.
Glenn: Increasingly so. In fact, alarmingly, you may have heard of the term “pharm parties” – that’s p-h-a-r-m, short for ‘pharmaceutical’ – ‘pharm parties’ where teens literally come together. They bring together different samples of prescription medication, maybe from the family home, they put them all into a bowl, they mix it all up, and then basically randomly take one, and offer them to each other.
Now again, they have no idea what they are getting there, so you can imagine dangerous potentially that is.
Dennis: I have heard about this, and I’ve also heard that many of these drugs, when mixed with alcohol, can be deadly.
Glenn: Very much so. In fact, usually that’s what occurs.
Dennis: I think, back to being a parent, though. There’s a lot to being a parent that you just don’t count the cost of preparing your young person for the issues they are going to face when they do get into junior high and high school. Why do you think parents don’t address this subject? It’s not like it’s sex, which is this ultimate, most threatening subject that two human beings can talk about. Why is it they don’t talk about it?
Glenn: I think first we like to believe the best about our children, don’t we? You want to believe that your kids are going to be fine, they’re going to make good choices, they’re not going to make a decision that’s going to hurt them or hurt us as a family.
Dennis: They’re hanging out with good kids . . .
Glenn: Yes. They go to a good school. Maybe they are a member of a youth group, whatever the case might be. You believe the best about them. So I think there’s that innate desire that you just believe the best about your children, to start with.
Otherwise, I think there are some fears that parents have. One fear is simply “I just feel if I’m going to talk with this subject with my kids, then I’m going to come across as pretty stupid and naïve or ignorant. How do I get up to speed about what to talk about? How do I stay informed?
I just lack enough awareness about this issue, so if I begin to talk about this subject with my child, then ultimately I’m going to come across feeling pretty silly, because I don’t think they are going to understand or respect what I’ve got to offer.”
Dennis: It would also seem there might be a fear, especially for a parent who has been a user of drugs when they were in high school, college, or adulthood, that the kid is going to go, “Hey, Dad, did you use drugs?”
Glenn: Yes. It’s been fascinating working with parents and talking to parents in that situation. Some would say, “Listen, I think it’s important just to be honest and transparent about that experience,” so that you can say, “Listen, son, I did this, but man, I regret it.” Other parents would say, “Listen, I’d rather not share that part of my life.” So you do come across some conflict there.
But in essence, for the parents who have had a drug experience, “How do I talk about that? Do I reveal this to my child? And if I reveal this to my child, is that going to encourage my child to go ahead and experiment? They might say, ‘Well, it’s okay. Dad tried it. Mom tried it. It’s okay and look, they’re still here. They’re okay. They’re healthy.’” So there is that issue as well.
Dennis: If you had to advise a parent listening right now who had used some drugs growing up, would you advise them to share or not to share, and if they share, at what age would you tell your child?
Glenn: Well, you’ve asked me a couple of questions there. One is, would I share that with a child? It really does depend on the age of the child and also the maturity of the child. And again, it’s very difficult just to say, “Well, listen. Wait until your child is 13 years old to say that,” because if you’re comparing one 13-year-old against another 13-year-old, their immaturity may be quite different.
Typically I would recommend to parents that they do share that, but think very carefully about how that is shared. If you’re going to share that in the vein of “Listen, I did this and it was no big deal,” well then that doesn’t send exactly the message that you want to be sending to your child.
But if you present that by saying, “Well, listen, son, I got pulled off in a whole different direction here, and I wasn’t expecting it. The reason why I went down this line was because I wanted to be cool.”
“I wanted to be with my friends and my friends wanted to be with me, and I realized that the only way I could really stay with them was by going on a drinking binge or smoking marijuana or whatever. I realize now, looking back, that that was the wrong thing to do. It was unhealthy and actually it turned out that some of those friends weren’t really my friends. Honestly, some of those friends went on to really mess up their lives big time.”
Bob: You had a conversation with a young man named Tim at the muffler shop.
Glenn: That’s right.
Bob: He’d been involved in drugs, right?
Glenn: Well, he had been. It was an incredible moment, actually. He had become aware of a program that we launched in Australia called How to Drug Proof Your Kids, and we’ve had thousands of parents go through this program now.
I just happened to be there dropping off my car to get the muffler repaired and he just came over. He saw me reading this article in the newspaper on drugs, and he said, “Oh, yeah, I just finished doing a How to Drug Proof Your Kids course. It’s a parenting program.”
I said, “Oh really. Tell me a little about that.” He didn’t know that I was with Focus on the Family Australia or had launched the program. “Well honestly,” he said, “from a young age in high school, I really went off the rails with this stuff.” He said, “I thought it was pretty harmless. I thought I could control it. Very soon I found out that I couldn’t. It then became incredibly costly, even financially, so in order to maintain that habit I had to do things, sell things, steal things, in order to maintain that.”
And he said, “But, sees, none of my parents had that conversation with me. They didn’t tell me what to expect when I got to thirteen or fourteen where this potential was going to be an issue. So I have come to this program,” he said, “I have a four-year-old (I think it was) and a six-year-old, and I want to be prepared. I want to know ‘how do I talk to my children about this so they don’t have to live or experience the type of lifestyle I did or make the same mistakes I did.’”
Dennis: I have to admit, as I listen to those stories, I’m still terribly naïve about the drug culture. My barber is a recovering drug addict. He’s very open about it, been very involved in Celebrate Recovery. Over the years, obviously as you’re sitting there getting your hair cut, you get a chance to ask a few questions.
I didn’t realize that someone who is taking drugs or getting hooked – his was a $300 a day habit at the end – and he was doing that professionally as a barber. Okay? I didn’t realize how physically the body starts to shut down and how he wasn’t eating. It took ultimately the convergence of friendships and family members and professional people getting involved in his life to bring him back to reality and ultimately to save his life.
With children, however, we’re not talking about this level of drug use, are we? Or can they get addicted to such a level?
Glenn: Well let me give you an example. There was a situation that I encountered in Australia in the city of Melbourne, where elementary schools (we call them ‘primary schools in Melbourne) – on the streets – dealers were making available these heroin kits for 10 year olds. Obviously, that just scares every parent.
Again, having young children, that frightens me to death. But our kids are being exposed to this. Again, I think we’ve got to take some of the mystique out of this a little bit. I mean, it’s not that we have to be concerned that tomorrow your kid is going to be really confronted with drugs.
What I’m trying to say through the message of this book is, “You know what? As a parent, be prepared. Be informed. Know how to engage your child in a conversation over this. Create a safe environment, a safe place where your children can ask any question they want. You’re not going to make fun of the question; you’re not going to put them down for the question that they ask. But look for some of those teachable moments.
The other day I was driving along and there was a significant car accident, a car wreck. Now Ben and Ryan (Ryan’s my nine-year-old) said, “Whoa, I wonder what happened there?” Ben said, “Well, he might have been speeding or he might have been drinking too much, Dad.” I said, “Well, what happens when you drink too much?”
He said, “Well, I think when you drink too much you don’t think too straight,” and he said, “and you can’t react as quickly as what you should be able to.” And so, again I was surprised at just how mature and how intuitive my young kids were about this subject.
Again, it’s looking for these moments. In sports, they see players celebrate victories by throwing around champagne or drinking beer and everything. Please, I’m not judging those players, but I’m saying when you celebrate something like that and it’s seen to be very cool that you celebrate a victory with beer and champagne and everything else, all of a sudden our kids get the message that “Hey, this is pretty cool. Apparently when I’ve reached a certain level and this is cool enough and I win and victory is associated with alcohol.”
Bob: Is that the primary attraction for young people? Are they drawn to drugs or alcohol because it looks cool?
Dennis: Yes, is it a peer pressure deal?
Glenn: That certainly is true the further you move into the teen years. I think of the elementary years – although it’s seen as being cool – it’s not so much being driven by peer pressure to be cool as much as a desire just to want to be cool.
I have a nine year old, and yes, he wants to be liked. I’m sure that none of his friends right now are probably engaged in drinking alcohol. We talk about this, you know, “Are they?” and so on. But he still wants to be liked. He has a strong desire to be liked. But
I don’t think he’s feeling any pressure that in order to be liked he has to go and drink alcohol or take a drug or whatever. I think as you move into the teen years, increasingly you’re feeling that pressure to be more cool and this is seen to be very cool – engaging in some sort of risk-taking behavior.
Dennis: So Glen, at what age do you begin to tell what is potentially a frightening story of somebody losing their life because they take a drug like Ecstasy?
Glenn: Again, I have shared some stories. I shared the story about Sandy and Karen to my nine-year-old and my eight-year-old already, again, not to inject a sense of fear into them, not to make them really frightened, but again, just to demonstrate to them the potential tragic consequences of drug use.
Again, this was the situation: Sandy was at a party with her sister – it was a dance party – and she had somewhat dehydrated in the course of the night, so was drinking lots of water. She took an Ecstasy tablet. She was there with her sister. (Her parents were great parents, by the way, a great family.) Sandy was offered the tablet and she thought, “It’s probably not going to hurt. It’s not going to harm me. It’s just one.”
In this case, what happened was the brain expanded because she had been dehydrated. She over-hydrated in order to correct that, and there was a chemical reaction. She collapsed and her sister called the emergency number and the hospital. Obviously the paramedics came, and they took her to the hospital. By the time the parents had got to the hospital, Sandy had died.
I remember talking to Karen, the mother, later. In fact, Karen and I had quite a bit to do with each other. We’d go to schools, and we’d talk to other kids about this issue. She became a real soldier, so to speak, just to come alongside, just to encourage and equip parents and stop them from being naïve or ignorant about the issue.
She would say, “You know what, I talked to my daughters about this. I talked to Sandy about this issue. I thought she was well-equipped. But what this tells me,” she said, “is that I just cannot afford to let my guard down. I can’t afford to say, ‘My child knows enough.’”
She said, “I probably stopped having those conversations because I thought I had overdone it. I thought I had come to that point where ‘well, she knows.’” But she said, “I realize that I didn’t provide those opportunities for Sandy just to share with me how she was really feeling at the time.”
Bob: You know, I think as a parent you know these stories or you hear some of these stories, and you think, “Well, I’ll talk to my kids about this.” But your kids will give you this “Yeah, Dad, okay, we know. We’ve heard this before.” So you do get a sense of “I’ve told them. They understand. I’m not going to keep talking about it or they’re going to start to tune me out and figure I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
You know, as parents you do think, “I don’t want to nag them about this stuff.” So how can I tell whether I’m nagging or whether I’ve not said enough?
Glenn: Bob, what you’ve said there is true. But you know what, it’s probably not true in the parent-child relationship when your child is still in elementary school. They’re not likely to say, “Oh, Dad, there you go again.” You actually don’t typically get that response when they’re in elementary school. At least I haven’t got that response just yet.
Bob: So you’re saying third, fourth, fifth graders – this is where you start to engage on this?
Glenn: Well, think about it. I still remember bringing Ben home as an infant for the first time. Obviously by the time he’s three and four years old, I’ve gone around the house. I’ve made sure it’s kid-safe. I’ve made sure, whether it’s detergents, or whether it’s bleaches, or whether it’s solvents or paints or whatever in the garage, I’ve made sure that whatever is potentially dangerous is out of the reach of my child.
Glenn: In the same way, as kids get older, they get to four years old or five years old or six years old, you know, they’ll often typically go to reach something or use something that you know is harmful, whether it’s paint thinners or whatever, and they’ll see a label on there “Beware.” Again, it creates an opportunity to say, “Hey, listen son. The reason that’s on there is because that is poisonous. These are chemicals. They will hurt you. They will harm you, so you’re not to swallow them, not to play with them.”
So in the same way as these are chemicals, as your child gets older, they move close to the teen years, drugs are chemicals, and so they cause different reactions in the body. At that point your kids have had that journey, if you like. Talking about drugs is not an event, it’s a journey. Really it’s to take the mystique out of it and to get your kids involved in a conversation where this just becomes a normal part of your conversation, not something to be feared.
Dennis: Right. And as I’m listening to you here I’m just grabbing a few practical, non-negotiables that parents ought to leave this broadcast with. First of all, realize that there’s a problem, no matter where your kids go to school, whether they’re home-schooled, whether they go to a Christian school, or a public school, they’re going to run into other children. They’re going to run into situations and opportunities beyond your control where they may encounter something dangerous. So the second thing they need to do is have a proactive plan that’s not a one-time conversation, but frankly, it’s a life-time conversation.
Glenn: That’s right.
Dennis: I don’t know that you’d ever stop having a conversation with your kids. You’re certainly not lecturing them as adults, but if you feared substance abuse with one of your adult children, I think that would be a fair conversation to have at that point.
And then, third, I think that the whole idea of peer pressure: as parents we dare not underestimate its power in our children, starting at increasingly younger and younger ages. I have written a book called So You’re About to be a Teenager.
Bob: Now, wait. Your son, Samuel and your daughter, Rebecca might take issue with the fact that you wrote that book.
Dennis: Well, I co-authored the book with them.
Bob: They were involved in the writing of that book as well, weren’t they?
Dennis: They were very involved in that.
Bob: Yes, alright.
Dennis: And it sold over 100,000 copies. It’s really interesting, but I’ve just been having conversations with Samuel as a co-author of that book, to talk about revising it, because I think the age where they need to learn some of these matters is getting younger and younger. That book was written for eleven- or twelve-year-olds. That was the target when we wrote it about six or seven years ago.
I’m going to tell you something. Today that age is getting younger and younger where they’re getting exposed to alcohol, drugs, sex, and pornography. I think it’s the wise parent who understands the culture, the peer pressure and all that’s coming at our kids on TV, in the media and on the internet. We have to be ahead of the game.
Bob: Well, and it may be that you don’t need to revise the book. You just need to, as a parent, give it to your son or daughter at age ten rather than age eleven or twelve, given the issues that you’re talking about and the fact that they are getting hit with this stuff earlier and earlier. Maybe you take them on a Passport to Purity weekend when they turn ten rather than wait until they are eleven or twelve.
The point is, as parents we have to be proactive on this issue. We have to be, as you said, ahead of the curve, and we have to have the resources to help us, whether it’s the Passport to Purity weekend or the So You’re About to be a Teenager book for kids, or Glen’s book, Talking Smack. We have all of those books in our FamilyLife Today resource center. Folks can get more information by going online at FamilyLifeToday.com if they want to get a copy of the book.
In fact, we thought that Glen’s book was so helpful for parents that this week we are making it available to folks who contact us and make a donation to the ministry. All you have to do is go online and make whatever donation you want to make and we’ll send you a copy of the book Talking Smack by Glenn Williams.
If you make a donation and you want a copy of the book, type the word ‘TALK’ in the online key code box, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make your donation over the phone, and just mention that you’d like the book on drugs that we’ve been talking about.
Again, it’s called Talking Smack. We hope that parents will get a copy of this book, and not just get a copy but read through it and then engage with your son or your daughter, whether they’re ten or eleven or twelve, or 16, 17, or 18. It’s time to start having some of these conversations.
And let me just say a word of thanks for your support of the ministry. As you make a donation to help support FamilyLife Today, you’re helping to keep this program on this local radio station and on our network of stations all across the country. We appreciate your partnership with us, and just want to say thanks in advance for whatever you are able to do in terms of a donation to help support the ministry.
Now, tomorrow we’re going to continue this conversation with Glenn Williams talking about how we talk with our sons and daughters about drugs and alcohol. I hope you can tune back in and be with us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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