Any mother or father knows that honesty is rarely the best policy when raising little kids. Parenting is basically just a series of subterfuges and total fabrications ("Vegetables are delicious"; "The iPad is not a toy"; "It's not like mommy and daddy are having fun without you when you go to sleep") designed to train our children away from their animal impulses and get them to act like people in the hopes that they will grow up to function normally in society and not totally embarrass you in public. But eventually they'll reach an age when can actually be truthful with them and use reason and logic to make them obey, right? Not really, according to a new study that finds that parents should absolutely not be candid with kids about their past drug use—even as a cautionary tale—because kids are jerks and idiots and super uncool and turn all of your good intentions into some bullshit.
The study, published in the journal Human Communication Research, examined drug surveys of nearly 600 American sixth, seventh, and eighth graders that questioned their "attitudes toward drugs, whether they used drugs, and what kinds of messages their parents were giving them." Children who reported that their parents told them about regretting their own past substance use were less likely to have anti-substance-use perceptions.
Essentially, if you try to be real with your kid about how it's one of the shittiest, worst feelings in the world SO AWAKE in a darkened room, desperately, pathetically scraping a CD jewel case with your maxed-out credit card to try to form just one more line to share with a small group of people you hardly know and barely like at 7 am on a Friday morning after going on a 12-hour coke binge, and how depressing it is to hear your neighbor's hairdryer through the wall as she's getting ready to go to work, driving home how she's a decent person and you're a total fuck up who will show up late at the office smelling like ketosis and dirty laundry, your kid will ignore all of that and only process that you actually did coke, which means that doing coke isn't really forbidden. Even though you just opened up and shared a story about how un-fun drugs can be, the fact that you shared at all only muddies the anti-drug message you're trying to get across.
"I think parents are expecting that if they share their experiences this can be used as a teachable moment," said the study's lead author Jennifer Kam, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "But even when the parents say they regretted using drugs, the fact that the parents used them at all undermines the negative point they're trying to make."
It makes sense, of course, that kids are more attentive to taking cues from what their parents do, rather than what their parents say. I have no idea if my parents ever tried drugs. (They probably didn't. Just like how they've only had sex twice, once to conceive me and once to conceive my sister.) They've never talked to me about trying drugs, and the only anti-drug sentiment I gleaned from them in my childhood were the times my mother would look up from the pages of the New York Post or People magazine and say something like, "That Madonna is whacked out on drugs. She'll die of AIDS."
I could tell by her tone that my mother—a registered nurse and unconscionable snob—thought that street drugs were trashy. But according to her, every celebrity did them. To me, that seemed really glamorous. I used to crush up Smarties and snort them after seeing Less Than Zero when I was like eight or nine years old. As far as I could tell from that movie, cocaine was OK, but crack was something to avoid. In fact, movies are really what formed my delineations between the cool drugs and the ones that made you homeless.
Like Less Than Zero, New Jack City convinced me to just say no to crack. Trainspotting, Sid and Nancy, The Basketball Diaries and Basquiat scared me off of ever even having a remote interest in trying heroin. It just didn't seem worth it. It appeared to make you annoying and poor.
Now, cocaine was portrayed really differently. It was something that beautiful, fabulous, rich people did, like Demi Moore in St. Elmo's Fire, Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface, or Sharon Stone in Casino. I mean, it still seemed dangerous, so it was something I didn't really have the balls to try until I was in my 20s. Really, the movie that actually convinced me to seek out this stoner kid in my class and go to his house after school and get high was Dazed and Confused. It was my gateway to the gateway drug. It made pot seem really fun and harmless. Which it is. How am I going to lie to my daughter about that? (Especially considering how my coat sometimes smells.)
I guess we'll just have to cross that bridge when we get to it. And we will get to it, eventually. It's hard to hide something about yourself that's on the internet and available in book stores. Of course I don't want my daughter to be a burnout. But I don't really have a problem with her smoking weed when she grows up—as long as it's not my weed. Get a job and buy your own shit.
Don't tell kids about past drug use, study finds [Today]
Parents Talking About Their Own Drug Use to Children Could Be Detrimental [Science Daily]