About the Guest
Do your kids have access to drugs? They're easier to get than you think. Glenn Williams, founder of Focus on the Family Australia, opens parents' eyes to the availability of drugs and alcohol in schools and elsewhere.
Glenn WilliamsGlenn Williams is the former Chief Operating Officer of Focus on the Family. Before coming to Focus' headquarters in the U.S., he founded Focus on the Family Australia where he served as CEO for 10 years. Williams recently returned to Australia to work at the Family Challenge family psychology clinic. Williams has authored two books: Talking Smack and Your Marriage Can Survive a Newborn. He and his wife, Natalie, have three children.
Do your kids have access to drugs?
Bob: Talking with our children about drugs is not a one-time experience. Glenn Williams says it’s not an event. Instead it’s something that should be a part of our conversation somewhat regularly.
Glenn: You know, when you’re sitting down watching the football and there’s an interview about steroids or performance-enhancing drugs, or there’s an article in the newspaper on the front page about a car accident and people were killed because the driver was under the influence. You look for those teachable moments, and believe me, they are there and they are fairly frequent. Taking real life examples from everyday things that your kids see and hear and experience -- for me, that’s wise use of those.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, October 26th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Even if you look at your son or daughter and think there’s no way they are using any kind of drugs, you still need to be talking with them about it.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m just curious. Did you have regular conversations with your kids as they were coming up on the subject of drugs and alcohol and substance abuse?
Dennis: They would say I did.
Dennis: They would say, “Dad, you just overdid it.”
Bob: You hammered us on this?
Dennis: No. I really didn’t hammer them. From my perspective it was a good prevent offense.
Bob: So would it be monthly? A couple times a year? How often would the subject come up?
Dennis: I didn’t have it on the calendar. All I know is I tried to take advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves in the culture and with their friends and what was taking place. I’m going to tell you something: If you raise young people today, toward adolescence and the teenage years, you’re going to have some illustrations that you’re going to be able to unpack and talk about with them.
Bob: Well, and if you’re sitting down and watching a sporting event with a son or daughter, about every ten or 15 minutes you have a fresh opportunity to address it because every other commercial is about alcohol use. Right?
Dennis: Oh, I thought you were going to talk about the reporting about athletes using performance-enhancing drugs and those are opportunities to talk to your kids about it.
We have a guest who has given a good bit of his life to addressing the needs of young people, not only before they get to adolescence but after they are in the battle. Glenn Williams joins us on FamilyLife Today. Glenn, welcome back.
Glenn: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Dennis: Glenn has written a book called Talking Smack. He is an Australian – in fact, you can tell he’s from the south – south of the equator. (Laughter)
Bob: He says, “G’day, y’all.”
Dennis: That’s exactly right. Glenn has three children. In fact, he’s right in the middle of this with his wife, Natalie. You’re in what I call “The Golden Years.” All your kids are 11 or 12 and younger, so you’ve not yet collided – truly collided—with the culture. There are still under your control.
Glenn: That’s right. So, all the more reason to be prepared, don’t you think?
Dennis: Yes. A lot of parents aren’t prepared. They’re naïve.
Bob: Well, they get lulled to sleep in the middle of it, because you look at your kids and you think, “They’re so sweet and they’re so innocent.” Yes, it’s naïveté or it’s just feeling comfortable.
Glenn: Or we just think our kids are just a long way away from dealing with an issue like this. Let me speak to that. There’s one story that comes to mind: Jackie and Brian -- again, just your average couple. Jackie and Brian and their daughter Lisa went out to see a movie one night. They came home to something that they never thought they would experience.
They pulled into the driveway, and there’s their son, Gary. Gary is fifteen years old and he’s clearly in distress. You can see that Gary has been beaten quite severely. All the lights in the house are on, the doors are open. So again, you start thinking the worst: “What is going on here?”
Brian, the father, runs into the house, and he can see that it’s a mess. Literally, things have been turned upside down and anything of any value had been taken – the television, the stereo, the camera – anything of any value.
What they later found out from Gary was that Gary had, what he thought innocently, started just experimenting with marijuana. He thought it was kind of cool and he enjoyed the high- the feeling that it gave him and thought that he could control that.
But before long he realized that somebody who was providing him with marijuana would eventually come to collect. They’d want payment for that, and Gary clearly wasn’t in a position where he could afford to pay for that.
Dennis: So how did he get the drugs in the first place if he wasn’t paying cash for them?
Glenn: He got it all on credit. People are often given drugs on credit with the full knowledge that one day they are going to have to pay for that. Typically what happens is it gets closer to payment day and I don’t have the money and so I’m going to have to steal something or I’m going to have to take something out of mom or dad’s wallet or purse and hopefully they won’t notice and so on.
But particularly when the habit becomes quite severe, it gets incredibly expensive. So this is what had happened to Gary. A group of guys had come to collect payment, and he didn’t have the money, so they went inside the house and took everything of value.
Now, again, this was a normal family, Dennis. And I remember Jackie talking about this later. She said, “Where did I go wrong? Did I fail as a mother? How could all this have been going on under my eyes and I had not even noticed? I didn’t even realize that there were certain signs or symptoms that I needed to be aware of that would be indicators of drug use.”
Brian’s response as the father was quite different. He kind of wanted to live in a denial. “Well, it’s just a passing phase. Gary’s a teenager; he’ll get over it. It’s normal for teens just to try something and to move on.” The problem here was that Gary as the user didn’t just move one.
Dennis: You know, I’m thinking right now, Bob, and you remember this interview with John Vawter. John was a pastor, and he would put himself in the same camp as these parents. He didn’t realize it was going on.
Bob: Yes. And he was very transparent as he had the conversation with us. In fact, we were able to get his daughter, Stephanie, on the line and to talk with her about what had been going on as well. Their candor in talking about this issue, I think was very helpful for our listeners, and we want folks to hear just a little slice of what that conversation sounded like.
John: Later on, I said to Stephanie, “How could I be so stupid to have missed the fact that you used heroin for a year and a half?” Her immediate response was the statement that has now helped lots of parents. She said, “Dad, you can’t be a successful addict unless you’re a great liar.” Another way of saying that is, she said “My ability to lie is better than your ability to discern.”
Stephanie: I had tried LSD. I had tried cocaine, and that was experimental and short-lived because they didn’t give me the effect that I was looking for. And then when I did heroin for the first time I thought, “Wow, I don’t have to feel anything right now. That was the feeling I had been looking for, was the feeling of nothing.”
John: There were a few times when Susan, her mother, and I talked about the fact that she seemed to be a little aimless in Denver. Was she in fact in school? Why did she seem to move from job to job? In one sense it was a complete shock, and in another sense it brought us an answer to some questions we had been asking.
Stephanie: I hadn’t any clue what I would do if I wasn’t doing heroin. I had no idea how to live without something medicating my feelings.
John: Our son called. He said, “Mom and Dad, are you sitting down?” And before we could sit down he said, “Stephanie is using heroin.” All I could tell you is at that moment I had been in ministry for over thirty years, I have talked a lot about the sovereignty of God, I’ve talked a lot about God being close to us during tough times, and I honestly could not breathe.
The first emotion we felt after fear, and the fear was overwhelming, because Stephanie was in Juarez, Mexico, was one of asking the question, “What have we done wrong?”
Stephanie: The whole idea behind going to Mexico was that this drug dealer who lived in the basement of my house who had actually become my only friend at that point; we went to Mexico with the intent of trying to wean ourselves off heroin by using prescription drugs. And as crazy an idea as that might sound to someone who’s not an addict, to us that sounded perfectly normal.
We were going to go to Mexico, get prescription drugs, go to the beach and try to wean ourselves off heroin, because detoxing from heroin is not pleasant. But then we went to Mexico and trouble finds trouble. And we found heroin that was more potent than we had been doing. The desire to continue being that high superseded any desire to want to stop.
John: And what we realized is that we did not have the luxury of time to sit around saying “Were we bad parents?” or “What are people going to say about us?” or “What are people going to think?” We needed to try to find out how we could rescue her from where she was at that time.
Dennis: Parents can beat themselves up here. Even parents who do a good job preparing their kids to face drugs and alcohol abuse and all the various issues they’re going to face – parents can do a great job but there is still the human element here where a fifteen-year-old is a fifteen-year-old.
Dennis: He’s young. He’s impressionable and in the words of Proverbs, he can be a fool. He can make a wrong choice.
Glenn: And again as parents, just understanding that our kids are literally every day bombarded with messages about drugs and about alcohol. You know, whether we like it or not, it’s in the newspaper, it’s on the news, it’s on television, and it’s in sporting events. Kids are exposed to this.
So don’t just think, “Well, my school is a safe place. My kid’s in youth group, and youth group is a safe place.” It’s not necessarily about those things per se; it’s about your child is being literally bombarded day in and day out with these advertisements and they are making value judgments about what they’re hearing and what they’re seeing.
Dennis: So what are you telling your son to do if maybe someone comes up and offers your eleven-year-old a heroin starter kit?
Bob: You mentioned a heroin starter kit, and I thought to myself, “A ten- or eleven-year-old doesn’t like to get a shot from a doctor, so somebody is going to come up to them with a needle and they’re going to go ‘Oh, that looks cool’?”
Glenn: Or some powder to ingest or whatever. Again, what I would say to my son, or what I have said to my son in that context there, Dennis, is that “Listen, you don’t accept anything from anybody unless you know what that is.”
I think one of the challenges and what parents need to realize is that drugs are made out to be not just cool, but also very attractive. You have very cool names being assigned to some things. You have very cool colors being assigned to tablets, and some of the different drugs are valuable. So if you don’t know what that is, you don’t take it.
Bob: Aren’t you concerned that your son is just going to go, “Okay Dad, you’re Dad. You have to say that. I mean that’s . . . yeah . . . but come on, my friend’s using the stuff and nothing bad is happening to him.” Aren’t you concerned that the message you’re trying to preach is going to get marginalized or shoved aside by your kids?
Glenn: Let me put that question back to you a different way. If I’m afraid that that would be the reaction of my child, do I therefore not say anything? Because, you know what, if I don’t say anything, I run the risk of my child being totally fooled every single time.
Glenn: I care enough about my kids to say, “You know what, they still may make a decision that I would disagree with or make a choice that is going to hurt them or harm them, but it’s not going to be because I didn’t share with them or talk with them about the subject.”
Bob: It actually happened to me in the ninth grade. I was at my locker and had a guy come up to my locker and he said . . .
Dennis: Now you lived in St. Louis.
Dennis: Not Ozark, Missouri.
Bob: I was in the bigger city, and I’ll never forget, he came up and he kind of looked both ways and he said, “You interested in a bag of marijuana?”
Dennis: Okay, before you finish the story, had your parents talked to you about what to do in that situation, Bob?
Bob: I don’t remember a conversation about that. You have to remember, let’s see, I’m in the ninth grade, so this was 1970. Drug use was all over the news media in 1970. This was the year I think that Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix both died.
Dennis: Yes – LSD and . . .
Bob: Yes, and we’d seen Woodstock and so I’d kind of known what was going on. But I don’t remember Mom and Dad ever sitting down and talking to me and saying, “You don’t want to mess with this stuff,” or “You don’t want to do that.”
But I was aware of it, I knew it was there, and so I had the guy come up and say, “You want a bag of marijuana?” First of all, he was a big guy and I was a little afraid if I said “no” that he might get mad at me.
Dennis: Was he offering it for free or for sale?
Bob: No, he was offering it for sale. I kind of nervously laughed and said, “No, no I don’t think so. Not today.” And he went on. That was the end of the conversation. But I went home that night and I told my parents what had happened. I told my mom. I said, “Guess what happened to me at school today?” And my mom and dad called the local police officer, had him come out to the house, and I sat down with the detective and I told him what had happened to me at school.
Dennis: Good for them.
Bob: Well, yes. And we tried to make sure that the big guy didn’t know who it was who had talked to the local police officer, but it wasn’t long after that that I heard about him getting busted. So it does happen.
Dennis: It’s better said, I think: “It will happen.” Someway, somehow, the offer of some kind of drug is going to occur with your children between the ages of eight all the way through adolescence on into adulthood. It will happen.
Bob: I think back . . . Okay, so why did I say “no” if my parents had not had the conversation? I mean, it was in the news, and I knew that there were people dying from drug use, but I think one of the other factors for me was the fact that my dad drank to excess, so I was probably predisposed away from drugs as a result of that.
Dennis: And that’s my question, Glenn. Are there some children who are more at risk to take drugs than others? One of the stories you tell in your book is a child whose parents have been through a divorce.
Glenn: Yes, in fact researchers on this subject will talk often about risk factors and also protective factors. The more protective factors that exist, then they’ll counter some of those risk factors.
What are risk factors? It may be, for example, a child has a low self esteem, lacks a lot of self-confidence. It would be a stressful home environment, where perhaps there is a lot of conflict. He doesn’t have too many friends, is not very strong in the area of interpersonal skills, does not find it easy to relate to other kids, and so therefore is often left on the outer. Not performing well at school, not engaged in sports, not engaged as a family, so in other words there is not a strong parent-child relationship. All of those things are described as risk factors.
Now there are things that can be done to counter that. In the situation you’ve just talked about, where the child does grow up in a home where there has been divorce, what do you do to counter that? Well you counter that by making sure that there’s a good mentor, and that there are strong family relationships that exist for that child. Make sure that there’s a safe place where that child can continue to grow and ask questions.
For both parents that are separated, make sure that there’s an investment nonetheless in both of those relationships with the child; there’s still time for that child to actually be close to the mother and the father, albeit in different homes.
Dennis: To that point, Glenn, what if you’re in a situation where the parents are divorced and there’s some kind of joint custody or at least part-time custody, and the other parent is using drugs or alcohol in excess? What would you say to the parent who is trying to protect the child sending that child into that family experience on a regular basis?
Glenn: For starters, I’d report the other parent, because obviously that’s going to have an incredibly negative impact, a negative influence on the child. But again, you need to sit down with the child and make sure that the child is aware of what’s going on.
“Hey, listen, dad’s not doing terribly well, he’s drinking excessively, and the reason why he’s doing this is that he’s not coping too well. He obviously misses the family being together in one unit as it was, or there are stresses at work or somewhere else that he’s experiencing, and this is his way of dealing with that. It’s not a healthy way. It’s bad for his health; you’ve already seen it for yourself. It’s not good for the both of you to be together in that context.
Bob: Do you talk about it in spiritual terms? Do you define it as “This is sin on the part of your mom or your dad?”
Glenn: There are two ways you could go with that. You could talk about “this is sin,” or you could talk about “this is the consequences of sin or not being in the center of God’s will.” In other words, “We started fighting; we started arguing, which is not a godly response. . . .”
Scripture says you cannot have two masters in your life, and very, very quickly what you’ll find is alcohol or drugs will be a master in your life. It will dominate your life, it will control your life, and it will influence every decision you make. Is that the sort of life that you want for your child?
This brings me back to another story, if I could just share that quickly, about some of the conflicting messages that we can give our children. I remember the story of Beverly. Beverly came home after an incredibly stressful day at work, she goes into the kitchen, she opens the refrigerator door, pulls out a bottle of wine and pours herself a glass of wine, sits down in the chair and goes, “Ah-h-h, just what I needed, just to relax.”
Now what she didn’t realize was that her fifteen-year-old daughter had come into the kitchen at the same time she just poured that glass and sat down with that expression. Beverly realized at that point, “Wow, you know what? I just really sent a conflicting message to my daughter.”
Now, the issue is not the glass of wine here. The issue is the message that went with it. One of the things that I’m very committed to, honestly, is that this is not an issue of judging people for drinking wine or not drinking wine. This is a matter of saying, “Listen, just be careful with the messages that you apply to your actions in front of your kids. Is that consistent with the message that you’re trying to reinforce in your kid’s life?”
Dennis: Okay. Let’s talk about the message for a second, because, honestly, we interacted with our children around this. Our children said, “Dad, you just talk too much about this. We don’t need another lecture.” Now I didn’t view it as a lecture. I felt like I was running a good prevent offense trying to protect them from the culture. At what point does a parent overdo it, and honestly, if I had it to do all over again, I don’t know if I’d do it a whole lot different, even with the feedback that I got from our kids at the time.
Glenn: Yes. Well, I think a parent can overdo it, and again, some of it comes out of almost a sense of guilt. “I didn’t start young enough with my children. I didn’t make this a journey, I made it an event, and all of a sudden my kids are getting close to those teen years where they are going to be influenced by others more significantly. . .”
Glenn: “. . . so let’s cram as much information in as we can. So obviously that would be overdoing it. I’m not sure there’s any science to it, Dennis. I think it’s more about what are the teachable moments available to you?
When you are sitting down watching the football and there’s an interview about steroids or performance-enhancing drugs, or there’s an article in the newspaper on the front page about a car accident and people are killed because the driver was under the influence. You look for those teachable moments, and believe me, they are there and they are fairly frequent.
Taking real life examples from everyday things that your kids see and hear and experience -- for me, that is a wise use of those. So I think that will probably prevent you from overdoing it because you are actually using examples that are very real in your child’s life.
Dennis: What I’d want parents to know is that we are responsible to bring the truth of the Bible both from the Scriptures directly but also through our own experience and the lessons we’ve learned in life to our children and give them some boundaries that protect them.
Fences are put up to keep bad things out and good things in. As you instruct your children, as you hope to educate your children, you’re going to have push back. You know, I’m not responsible for my kids’ push back when it occurred.
Dennis: I’m more responsible to make sure that the boundaries that I’m passing on are done to the very best of my ability with a winsome spirit, not being judgmental, not pointing a finger at people or at things, but at the same time warning them that there are dangers out there that can destroy their lives. They may not like those boundaries, they may question those boundaries. In fact, more than likely, you need to know as a parent, they are going to question those boundaries.
Bob: I’m just sitting here thinking if you’re not getting a little push back, then you’re probably not going far enough in the conversation with your children.
Dennis: Either that, or you’ve got a firstborn who is just compliant.
Bob: I think the point is, as parents we’ve got to be proactive. We’ve got to have a strategy; we can’t just hope it doesn’t happen and then I’ll talk with my kids about this if I start to suspect something. We need to engage on this issue when they are preteens; during their teenage years we need to be looping back around and having this kind of a conversation with our sons and daughters.
One of the resources that will help us with that is the book that Glenn has written, which is called Talking Smack, and which this week we are making available to listeners who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation. We’d like to get this book in as many hands as possible. All you have to do is go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, make a donation, and then request the book. You do that by typing the word “TALK” in the key code box on the online donation form.
Or call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone and just say, “I’d like that book on drugs.” Again, it’s called Talking Smack, and we’ll get a copy of the book out to you. We hope a lot of parents will get it and read it and start engaging on this issue.
I also want to say we appreciate those of you who do help support this ministry with your donations. It’s those donations that keep us on the air on this station and on our network of stations all across the country. So we’re grateful for whatever you’re able to do in support of the ministry and just want to say thanks in advance for your financial support.
Again, if you’d like a copy of the book Talking Smack, make a donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com and type the word “TALK” in the key code box, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make a donation over the phone, and ask for a copy of the book.
Now, tomorrow we want to talk about what you do as a parent if you find out your son or daughter has used or is using drugs or alcohol. Glenn Williams is going to be back with us; hope you can be back as well as we continue this conversation.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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