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

When Honesty Backfires

Telling your kids the truth, however, doesn’t always keep them from making the same mistakes.

Diana had the opposite reaction to her parents’ absolute honesty. Her parents told her pretty much everything, which she says gave her the green light to party.

“My mom was a little too open,” Diana says. “It was always too much. It just became like, if you did it, it’s acceptable and I can get away with it.”

Diana spent most of her college years partying and recovering from hangovers, but she earned stellar grades, so her parents never voiced concern.

“I never got in trouble,” says Diana, who plans to remain tightlipped about her experiences. “My daughter especially would see it as a license to be crazy.”

Telling kids about past misdeeds is bound to backfire, says Richard Witsocki, a detective and investigator with a police department in a Chicago suburb, and also the owner of besureconsulting.com, an online resource for parents.

“This gives kids a golden ticket to do whatever the parents said they did because they turned out all right,” Witsocki says. “My kids think I’m a priest.”

According to Witsocki, it doesn’t matter whether you make up a story or a lie, parents should not tell their kids about their wrongdoings.

“That’s just not something you need to share with kids,” he says.

Donovan and Lee, however, stress that if the message is conveyed in a straightforward manner, without glamorizing past slipups, children won’t feel compelled to repeat their parents’ mistakes.

Creating a culture of honesty

One or two conversations about a parent’s past is not likely to deter kids from doing drugs, Lee says. It’s more important for parents to send strong messages about beliefs and cultivate a culture at home where kids feel comfortable talking about problems, Lee says.

It’s also crucial that parents lead by example—drinking responsibly (or not at all) and steering clear of drugs, he says. Parents should also avoid overreacting and becoming too emotional about problems their kids might face, Lee says. Teens are bound to make mistakes and parents should handle the situation calmly without judging.

“You have to invest a lot of time into it,” Lee says. “There needs to be strong messaging that’s consistent from a very early age.”

In the end, parents’ conversations might do little to influence the decisions teenagers make. He has met many teenagers from good families who got caught up in drugs.

“Teenagers are teenagers,” he says. “They’re impulsive. It’s a part of growing up.”

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