I’m Calling BS On The New Study Claiming That Parents Shouldn’t Be Honest With Kids About Past Drug Use

By  | 

drug preventionI realize that providing anecdotal evidence to combat scientific research is completely lame. I’m going to do it anyways. But I happen to feel like this new study about parents discussing their possible former drug use with their kids is a little questionable. Mostly, it assumes that saying drugs are super bad when you’re in middle school somehow equates to a healthy relationship with vices like drug, alcohol, and tobacco use later in life.

The study surveyed 561 middle school children in Illinois. Their findings were that, “Children were less likely to think drugs were bad if their parents opened up with them about past substance use to teach a lesson.” From that small bit of information, they extrapolated that parents should refrain from sharing their personal past experience with their kids, instead talking about the horrible things that happened to other people who use drugs.

My biggest problem here is that we’re assuming “thinking drugs are bad in middle school” equals “never doing drugs.” We’re assuming that young people are so simple-minded that hearing a nuanced conversation about vices, their risks, and why people still try them is dangerous. We assume that, “Drugs are bad!” is enough to keep tweens and teens from experimenting.

My mother never did drugs. But when I was younger, she admitted to my siblings and I that she had drank alcohol while in high school. I knew that she had made some dangerous choices, like getting into the car with someone who had been drinking. I knew that she smoked. Because I knew that my mom had smoked and drank, I didn’t necessarily think that doing so made you a “bad person.” But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t understand the consequences of those actions.

Even more than that, because my mother had honest conversations with my about her high school partying, I felt comfortable talking to her during my own high school years. Once, when a friend of mine had too much and I became worried about her safety, I was the person who called their parent to ask for help. And I’m thankful that I did.

I was a middle schooler once. I had plenty of friends who signed their, “Don’t do drugs” pledge and then went on to experiment. I had plenty of friends who didn’t know a thing about drugs and got themselves into serious trouble once recreational drug use became more prevalent and accessible, like on a college campus.

There’s more to keeping your kids safe than drilling in the idea that they should never use drugs ever. It’s a little like abstinence-only education. We need to be realistic and address that young people will encounter drugs and alcohol. They’ll have friends who smoke or drink. They’ll be at parties where it’s happening. And we need to explain that if they experiment, they can still be good people. They can still be responsible.

Personally, I’m thankful for my mother’s frank discussion about her partying days. I think I learned from them and I think I was more responsible because of them. It will take a whole lot more than one vague study to change my mind.

(Photo: spirit of america/Shutterstock)


  1. Sarah Hollowell

    February 22, 2013 at 11:26 am

    In high school, I asked my parents about their past drug use. My dad said he’d done acid a couple times, smoked weed, and gave me the sage advice to “never drive while on mushrooms”.

    My mom paused, thought for a moment, and said, “Well…I never did heroin.”

    Not only has this become like my favorite story to tell because it’s HYSTERICAL to me, but I really appreciated their honesty. My mom’s also been honest about her sexual past and pretty much anything else I ask about, which makes me feel like I can be completely honest with her. I don’t go “oh, my parents did drugs and they turned out great, so I can do them too!” It wasn’t until college that I had any drug experience, and that was a few special cookies. Somehow I survived such awful corruption.

  2. Sara Kate Ladybug Whittemore

    February 22, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    I definitely go with team honesty. Thinking parents lied to me makes me want to rebel even more.

    • chickadee

      February 24, 2013 at 11:37 am

      The study actually says that parents should not lie about substance use. What it does say is that it shouldn’t be volunteered.

  3. CrazyFor Kate

    February 22, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    My parents were always pretty open about their drug use. I tried weed a couple of times in college and that was it. Because they were honest about the effects and risks, I knew what to expect and how to be safe, and didn’t build up the experience to the point of recklessness. Doesn’t work with all kids, but there needs to be trust on some level.

  4. Andrea

    February 22, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    I think being completely honest about past drug use or sexual experimentation is a catch-22.

    If I tell my kids that yes I used drugs and had a wild sex life, they could take that as an implicit permission to do the same, and maybe make the same mistakes (or OMG WORSE) that I did.

    If I tell my kids that I never touched an illegal substance and had sex only after marriage, they could write me off (and everything I say) as the rantings of an out of touch foggie that has no idea what real life is all about for a teenager.

    The approach that I am going to take (and I am taking now with my oldest) is that it wouldn’t be useful for me to tell him about what I did or didn’t do. Instead, we should focus on discussing the effects drugs can have on your mind and body. We should focus on explaining what we expect from our children: to treat themselves and their bodies with respect.

  5. jef3r

    February 22, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Dang. Am I the only person who didn’t do drugs, drink, or have sex in high school? LOL! And my parents didn’t share any stories about their past…they just made their expectations clear and I lived up to them.

    • chickadee

      February 22, 2013 at 4:22 pm

      Nope. I was there in the geek section with you. And I waited until my two were equally geeky teenagers before my college activity became a topic of discussion.

  6. Fabel

    February 22, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    I agree. The whole “drugs are bad!” thing tends to backfire because these kids DO wind up growing & experimenting (or knowing those who experimented) & then they can start thinking everybody just *lied* to them about the dangers. The discussion definitely should be more nuanced.

  7. Bria

    February 22, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    My parents were always totally open and honest with me about their drug use in middle/high school and I never did drugs. My dad always took the stance of “you can’t do anything I haven’t done or try anything I haven’t tried and you aren’t nearly as sneaky as I was and your mom and I pay WAY more attention than our parents did so don’t bother because we will know”. I’m actually still convinced that if I were to ever show up at my parents house high, my dad would immediately know what I took, when I took it, how much I took, and whether it was good or not. I think knowing that my parents would always be on to me kept me from doing a lot of bad things as a kid

    • Blooming_Babies

      February 22, 2013 at 8:52 pm

      Same story here! I am convinced to this day that they would know. Telling my friends that “my parents will kill me” was an easy way to stay out of most trouble.

    • Amanda

      February 22, 2013 at 9:14 pm

      Lol, me too!

  8. Justme

    February 22, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    When I found out that both my parents had abstained from drugs throughout the wild and crazy 60s and 70s….I was a little disappointed. My parents were such squares.

    Good thing I’ve rectified that abomination for my own child.

  9. Amanda

    February 22, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    My father was addicted to meth at 15 and lived a life of alcoholism and drug addiction well into my early childhood and even had some relapses over the past few years. Because of his addictions, he did not graduate high school, did not attend college and never made adequate money to support my siblings and I. My mother’s story is similar. Their honesty about their problems encouraged me to graduate high school and start college; I’m now on the road to a doctorate program because I didn’t want to end up like them, I don’t want my future children to suffer like we did.

    So yeah, I call bullshit on that study, too.

  10. anon.

    February 23, 2013 at 3:50 am

    I don’t neccessarily think its a great idea to be informing kids one way or another of what you may or may not have gotten up to before you had them.

    Wouldn’t it be better to have an open and ongoing discussion about issues like drugs/sex etc, rather than spouting off your own narrow experience? And to set a standard for children to look up to (one of respect for your body and what is acceptable)?

    My husband went through drug addiction in his twenties. His parents always made it clear that doing drugs is unacceptable behaviour, and that there is never an acceptable reason to use. They never disclosed one way or another if they ever tried it. They also were open and supportive. This didn’t prevent him from going on and developing an addiction, but he has always said the standards they set provided a compass and a direction back.

  11. Pingback: Kids And Drugs Talk, Parents Discussing Drugs, Drug Use, Honesty

  12. Victoria

    February 23, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    Tricky. I think that parents can have a trusting relationship with their kids, and talk openly about difficult subjects without giving out too much personal information. It promotes good boundaries. For instance, you can talk about sex without bringing your kids into the details of your current sex life. You can talk about making choices that looking back, you regret. Not mentioning to them about the donkey show in Tijuana, or how awesome those LSD parties were, or anything. No need to lie or act shady. There’s a happy medium. Kids should know that some things are private, anyway, and don’t need a lot of details, while still not hiding the past. “It felt good at the time to be sexually loose, but it took an emotional toll I just wasn’t mature enough to handle. And now there are so many antibiotic resistant social diseases, I hope you’ll make better choices than I did.”

  13. Ale515

    February 25, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    My parents were hippies. They told me what drugs they did, and more importantly told me the horror stories about those drugs. Ya know, bad trips! I never touched a drug, not even a cigarette. 1-I knew I couldn’t get away with coming home high, or smelling like pot. And 2-I didn’t want to mess up my mind or body. My Mom did coke when she in her early 20’s (a lot) and had to have nose surgery to repair a hole. They put 6 feet..6 FEET! of packing in her nose! She said she would never forget what that felt/looked like when they pulled it all out of her nose. Yep, I stayed far away from drugs…..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *