London - There are very few occasions when one could be thankful to X Factor’s Frankie Cocozza (apart from when he stops singing, obviously).
But I’m strangely grateful to the silly-haired teenager. For it was his recent bad behaviour which gave me the chance to talk about drugs with my eldest child.
In all honesty, I’d rather have waited a couple of years, as she’s only nine. But following Frankie’s shock exit from the show every child in Britain watches, she wanted to know what drugs were.
It’s one of those chats all parents are supposed to have at some stage, isn’t it? And I’m of the opinion it’s more effective to tackle a tricky subject when they bring it up (and are therefore ready to listen) than when you bring it up out of the blue (and it feels like a lecture). The two of us were alone in the car when my daughter asked the “Frankie question”, as it has become known among parents at the school gates.
My first instinct was to hold my nose and hope I’d disappear, like Mrs Popov from the Seventies children’s show Rentaghost, only to materialise in my happy place: John Lewis. But then I realised there is probably no right moment to discuss the whole “mind-bending substances’ thing is there? So I should take a deep breath and seize this one.
I explained everything I could about drugs as simply as possible, hoping she’d conclude they’re not worth the risk later on. I cursed myself for not carrying round a picture of Keith Richards to accompany the “drugs don’t work” chat; one glance at that would make you think twice about sniffing a Pritt Stick, let alone going for the harder stuff.
My lovely, intelligent girl said exactly what I wanted hear in response, which is that drugs sound silly, so why would anyone take them? Then again, I suspect that most nine to 11-year-olds would say that, in the same way they cringe whenever kissing comes on the TV and tell everyone they want to marry their dad.
But we’d made a start on the road to growing up. Obviously, inside I felt as if I’d dropped out of a rollercoaster the moment it heads over the highest peak.
I hope I suppressed my terrified inner voice, which was yelling, “You’ll be micro-chipped with a tracker device when you reach 12 so you don’t need to worry about boys or drugs. And even then, you won’t be going outside unless you are dressed in a ski suit - complete with balaclava.”
I had tried not to scare her, or confuse her on her first step towards the adult world. I told her the truth as I know it because I think honesty is always the best policy (unless someone asks you where all the chocolate Hobnobs have gone - then you just look sideways at the dog).
Knowledge is power for children beginning to seek independence. It makes them feel in control of their choices: and if you start dictating rather than discussing you probably head down a confrontational path where rebellion is their only option.
This is why I’ve never banned sweets or severely restricted TV viewing. I’ve seen so many sugar-free youngsters go as bonkers as a bucket of snakes at birthday parties when they realise they have free access to the Haribo stash. We all know if we’re banned from having something we want it more (which is why diets don’t work, people).
I hope that our first foray into the realms of “parental guidance” was a success. But as with all things child-related, you don’t see any results for years. Parenting is all about letting go, isn’t it, and obviously these sensitive questions are going to keep coming as we let the rope out further and further. Perhaps next week we’ll be thanking Justin Bieber for giving us the chance to answer the more embarrassing “where do babies come from?” question.
Personally I am still working on the trickiest question a child has ever asked me, for which I have no answer - Gracie’s latest query: “Why can’t you lick your elbow?”
That one has got me stumped. - Daily Mail
*Lorraine Candy is the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine