By Susan Kurlander, Health Educator
Tragically, we have recently been bombarded with news of drug and alcohol related deaths. The media have focused graphic and in-depth attention on the death of singer Whitney Houston, who struggled with drug addiction even at the pinnacle of her career, and on the trial of George Huguely, University of Virginia student Yeardley Love’s former boyfriend, who had been heavily abusing alcohol during the time leading up to the brutal murder. There was also the middle schooler who was killed when he fell out of his uncle’s car because he needed to vomit. The 13-year-old had been drinking Four Loco, the canned drink filled with alcohol equivalent to 3-4 cans of beer.
It is impossible to insulate our children from hearing about such horrifying stories. However, rather than avoiding these troubling subjects, we can transform these tragedies into teachable moments for our children. Here are some conversation starters:
- Why do you think someone as talented as Whitney Houston would start using drugs? How do you think her career was affected by her drug use? I wonder how her drug use might have affected her daughter?
- Do you think that George Huguely would have killed Yeardley Love if he hadn’t been drinking alcohol? Why do you think that college students drink alcohol, even if they’re not of legal drinking age? In what ways do you think alcohol affects your ability to make decisions?
- Why do you think some friends want to drink alcohol while they are getting together? Why can it be so dangerous for a young teenager to drink any alcohol, but especially such a concentrated amount as there is in Four Loco? Why do you think the middle school student didn’t ask his uncle to stop the car if he felt sick, instead of opening the door while the car was still moving?
Probably the most important question you can ask your children, at any age, is: How do you think the people who loved and cared about those who died or who are now in jail must feel about their losses? To relate this to their own lives, you can ask: Which five people would be most affected if you decided to make a bad choice related to drugs? Would those people’s lives ever be the same again?
Teachable moments open doors for parents and children and teens to discuss difficult or challenging subjects. Often parents don’t know how or when to bring up topics like drugs or sex. When these subjects are highlighted in the news, this presents opportunities to introduce sensitive topics into family conversations. By asking open-ended questions (like “What do you think about…?”) parents may get to learn what is on their children’s minds. Parents might be surprised by how willing or eager their kids are to discuss these issues. These discussions also offer children natural opportunities to ask questions and get accurate information from their parents.
You never know when a teachable moment will present itself. Sometimes you’re driving the kids in the car and a news story comes on the radio. Or your child asks a question that makes you clench the wheel as you quickly try to figure out what you could/should say so that the moment doesn’t slip by.
Yes, teachable moments can be stressful. You may have to think quickly and speak up without planning out exactly what you are going to say. But these moments also present opportunities that could help our children learn to make good choices and decisions so that they will grow up safe and healthy in today’s world. Think of teachable moments as blessings in disguise.
By Susan Kurlander, Health Educator, Prevention Education, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
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