Family Room

Pot stores prompt family talk about drugs

potMy 8-year-old son recently said a kid in his class told him that a certain convenience store sells drugs, launching a conversation that I hadn’t yet thought to have with him.

I explained to him that the word “drugs” could refer to either illegal substances that he should never take or medicine that he would take if I gave it to him. I told him I was pretty sure most convenience stores sell only the medicine type.

What’s sold on a street corner nearby is another matter, I said. People buy illegal drugs because they don’t like their lives, and they think drugs will make them feel better. Instead, they end up feeling worse. My son seemed to accept that answer.

We’re revisiting the issue with this month’s opening of marijuana stores under Washington’s Initiative 502.

We frequent Vancouver’s Uptown Village, where a legal pot shop has opened.

I realized I could use some expert advice, so I called Joy Lyons, project coordinator for PREVENT!, Clark County’s substance abuse coalition housed at Educational Services District 112.

When the pot-shop topic comes up, Lyons recommends saying something along the lines of, “That is similar to an alcohol store. It’s not legal for anyone younger than 21.”

While it’s good to answer kids’ questions about drugs, it’s even better to start a conversation with them at a very young age, Lyons said.

“We recommend talking to children as young as preschool,” Lyons said. “At a preschool age you would say, ‘Here’s your vitamin. It’s important that you never take anything unless it’s given to you by your parent or your doctor.’”

She pointed me to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids web site for more guidance on talking with kids at different ages. It recommends telling school-age children, “Remember, you can always blame me and say, “My mom would kill me if I tried that!” As children get older, parents should explain how taking drugs would interfere with activities they enjoy.

“We know the ‘just say no’ days didn’t work,” Lyons said. She said parents should link drug use with its effects by telling kids, “You wouldn’t  be able to be in football or run as fast.”

When kids get to middle- and high-school age, you can counter the impression that “everybody is doing it,” with the facts, Lyon said. She pointed to the results of the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey. In 2012, 1 percent of sixth-graders and 25 percent of 12th graders in Clark County reported using marijuana in the last 30 days – hardly everybody.

“The biggest thing I say to my kids is, ‘It’s really not good for a developing brain.’ The  younger (children are when) you say that, the more they will internalize it,” Lyons said.

In talking with my sons, I decided to compare marijuana to tobacco: Cigarettes are legal, but that doesn’t mean you want to take up the habit the minute you turn 18.

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