My son and I live in Toronto, where the now infamous Rob Ford was mayor for four years. One morning we were walking to school past newspaper boxes and Noah read multiple front-page headlines about Ford’s drug use. My son’s questions came fast; “What are drugs?” “Why is he doing them?” “Are they good or bad?” I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs, “They are bad! Very bad!” But I waited until that evening so we could have a real conversation about it at dinner. I also needed time to prepare. One of the challenges of being a single mum is not having another parent to bounce ideas off of when it comes to serious issues.
It’s not often a city Mayor makes headlines around the world, but then again, it’s not every day that one openly states (after first denying it for months) that he has done crack-cocaine as well as abused alcohol during his time in office. It all started last year with the cellphone video of Ford allegedly smoking crack, as reported in the Toronto Star.
It only got worse from there. You know your local Mayor has made the big time when he appears on late night American television shows tossing T-shirts with his name on them into the audience of “Jimmy Kimmel Live”. As a Torontonian (yup, that’s a real word) it was hugely embarrassing watching these dramatic events unfold in the media.
So how did I turn this drug induced media frenzy into a lesson for my son? With “Just Say No,” of course! Even though I lived in Canada growing up, I was inundated with American First Lady Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign. It was an advertising campaign against the war on drugs in the eighties that stayed forever etched into my brain.
The campaign totally worked on me, I was terrified to try drugs, and throughout my childhood and teenage years I never did drugs.
Also responsible for my fear of getting high with the rest of my high school friends was the crazy intense commercial of an egg (your brain) being cracked and then fried in a pan (the drugs) and then the dramatic voice saying, “Any questions?”
Every time I turned on the television to watch my favourite shows (“Growing Pains,” “Who’s The Boss,” and “Family Ties”) I was forced to see this commercial. But we live in a different era now and I am not sure this approach would have the same effect on kids today (My parent’s old-style television didn’t have a mute button, let alone a remote!). So it’s up to us, the mummies and daddies of this generation, to guide our children to a safe and healthy place and teach them to make responsible choices and to think critically when faced with uncertainty and illegal temptation.
I used Mayor Ford’s highly publicized drug abuse as a learning exercise to teach my son about the dangers of drug addiction. Of course he’s only 8 so it didn’t get too intense, but I planted the seed that drugs can be hazardous and very unsafe with serious consequences. I have learned as a parent that it’s a fine line between scaring the little ones and teaching them about the dangers that may temp them later in life. We ended our discussion with a big piece of chocolate cake — my personal drug of choice.
Months after our discussion my son saw another newspaper headline about Ford entering rehab. Of course this lead to additional life lessons about people taking responsibility for their actions and getting the help they need, even when it’s difficult (Kudos to Ford). So although at first I was horrified to be teaching my son about the dangers of drugs because of the Mayor, I learned that anything can become a learning experience.
This week Toronto’s new Mayor will be sworn into office as Mayor Rob Ford steps down.
Let’s see what life lessons I can teach my son from Mayor John Tory. But in the meantime I am just grateful my little guy is too young to watch “Breaking Bad.”