Talking to Your Kids about Inhalant Abuse

Parent’s question

How serious of a problem is inhalant abuse? When should parents tell their children about the dangers of this abuse?

Our answer

The good news is that inhalant abuse is down. The bad news is that this abuse may start as early as first grade. According to the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, by the time a student reaches the eighth grade, one in five will have used inhalants to get high.

“It’s like playing Russian roulette,” NIPC notes on its prevent awareness website (it dedicates the third week of March to this cause). “The user can die the first, 10th or 100th time a product is misused as an inhalant.”

Children as young as 4 years old need to know the dangers of inhalants, as they are everywhere – in items such as glue, felt-tip markers, spray paint, air fresheners and cooking sprays. Even sucking in a bit of helium to make a silly voice can have a tragic outcome – as recently happened to a 14-year-old Oregon girl having a little fun at a sleepover.

Of course, how parents explain this depends on how old the child is. And you don’t want give too much information too soon – nor go into how inhalants are used (there’s something to that “don’t give them ideas” logic).

So how can you strike that balance? The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition has age-appropriate suggestions on explaining to your kids at the “teachers” portion of its website. For instance, you might tell your 4-7-year-old about the need for parent supervision and adequate room ventilation when using cleaning products or solvents. Kids ages 10-14 are ready for conversations on peer resistance and personal safety. And of course, at all stages, parents’ role-model example and openness to conversation are paramount.

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