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What to tell kids about your sex, drugs and rock and roll past

Dope, drinks and doing ‘it’

In high school Brian, an Eastern Shore resident who asked that his last name not be used, was pretty much a pot head.

“I smoked a lot of pot. Like all day every day,” he explains. After high school, Brian stopped using drugs, but became a binge drinker in college. Now in his 40s, married and living a respectable life, Brian thinks a lot about how he will address the topic of drugs with his preteen son.

“I will probably say ‘I used to do drugs with my friends,'” Brian says. “I’ll tell him in general I got out relatively unscathed, but all my friends have gone through 12-step programs, wrecked cars, gotten girls pregnant, gone to jail. I’ll probably share those stories with him.”

When kids ask questions, they are most likely trying to find out where parents stand on the issues. They are also looking for boundaries, Donovan says. Brian suspects his son might try alcohol or drugs at some point, but he wants to make sure he knows the repercussions.

Not only can sharing past experiences help kids learn from mistakes, but children might also learn from parents’ good behavior. Kelly Harden of Glen Burnie has no qualms about sharing her relatively clean past with her kids. Harden and her husband, Ed, were high school sweethearts who never drank or used drugs, but they did engage in premarital sex.

“We’re very open with our kids. I hope they at least trust me enough to be honest,” says the mom of three, ages 3-10. “We didn’t wait until we were married, but we waited until we had that one special person.”

Being honest with children may encourage teens to reconsider using drugs and alcohol, according to a 2009 survey conducted by the Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Center City, Minn. Half of the 603 teens surveyed said they would be less likely to use drugs if their parents told them about their experiences.

Dr. Joseph Lee, medical director of the Youth Continuum at Hazelden, says the study was conducted because addiction seems to be passed on through generations.

“We don’t learn from the mistakes of past generations,” Lee says, explaining people usually keep mum about their pasts. “Generally kids want to hear from their parents.”

The Message

When talking to kids, the intent of the message is important, Donovan says. Reminiscing about the good ole’ days only glamorizes any misdeeds, instead of teaching and helping kids. Let the child take the lead in asking questions and answer with straightforward information, Donovan says.

“Very often you can answer with just a little bit of information,” Donovan says. “You can say, ‘I did something in my past that I’m not proud of.'” If you’re not prepared to answer the question or would prefer not to divulge the information, that’s OK too, Donovan explains.

Lauren Matera of Annapolis plans to be completely honest with her two daughters Jocelyn, 2, and Alysa, 1.

“I want them to know that I’m not perfect,” Matera says.

Matera says she wasn’t rebellious in high school. She didn’t drink much and never used drugs, but she sometimes did “stupid things” like driving to Ocean City at 3 a.m. without her parents knowing or drinking at clubs when she was underage. At some of the clubs, Matera would borrow a friend’s “21 and over” wristband so she could look older carrying a beer around all night.

“I don’t even like beer,” Matera says. “It’s those kind of stupid moments. I was never hurtful, but I was an idiot.”

Matera credits her fairly tame teenage and young adult years to her parents’ honesty. Her mom and dad talked about their pasts and suggested how she might learn from their mistakes. In particular, Matera remembers her mom talking about getting so drunk she was sick for two days.

“I remember saying ‘Forget that. I will not be sick for two days,'” Matera explains.

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