I recently attended a talk for teenagers and parents at a school in Cape Town and came away with questions about how we should be talking with teenagers about drugs. When I was growing up we were shipped off to an intimidating police station where we were bombarded with fear about the effects of drugs. I still recall how they told us about a boy who had taken LSD and killed himself thinking that he could fly.

At the talk I attended, the approach seemed similar in that what was being relayed about drugs were horror stories. So, admittedly horror story are an age old approach, and they seem to work in the short term, which I suppose for many is the idea. I get a bit concerned though, as the gist of the talk, and the gist of much of what is being said about communication with teens is to teach them responsibility. The message is therefore, help teenagers to make responsible choices, and yet I wonder how the scare approach regarding drugs fits into this ideal? I’m not an expert in this field, so my suggestion is based more on my own logic and experience. So, would it not be preferable to provide teens with more in depth knowledge about what the actual effects of drugs are… why people take them… and how they become addictive and or lead to other risky behaviours…?

To me there is something about learning more with my child about what different drugs actually do that would open up a real conversation. There is also the fact that many parents have and do use recreational drugs, often on a regular basis. My approach would be around learning more together with my teenager so that we can talk about what is happening around them, as well as being an opportunity for engaging in responsible decision making. Horror stories are about fear… and fear based thinking is now a great platform for wisdom in life.