There is no easy way to talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol, but it’s an incredibly important conversation to have. Your children look to you to guide them on what to do or not to do, whether they act like they’re listening to you or not. The key to beginning to talk to your child about these substances is to keep open communication with them throughout their lives. “Open communication with your children is key to keeping them drug free. It is important to start talking with your children early and to continue emphasizing strong values throughout their teenage years” (Positive Parenting Guide, nd).
Because keeping tabs on your child can be a delicate dance of showing trust while keeping a curious mind about their activities, parents often find communicating their reasons helps. Let your children know that you genuinely care about their wellbeing and aren’t trying to be nosy or intrusive.
Some tips to make keeping tabs a seamless part of the routine:
- Share some quality in-person time — without the distraction of electronic devices — whenever you can: during meals, a walk, while you’re in the car, or simply hanging around at home together.
- Ask specific questions about their day but convey interest and curiosity, rather than making it feel like an interrogation: “Who’d you have lunch with today?”, “How was soccer practice?”, “What’s planned for play rehearsal tonight?”
- When friends are over, pop in to meet them or say hello, and check in periodically.
- Talk to their friends’ parents. If you don’t know them yet, introduce yourself the next time there’s an opportunity. You can email them, text or call to say hello.
- Ask teachers, coaches and other caring adults in your child’s life how they are doing in school or with extracurricular activities.
- Connect with the school as a volunteer or in other school-sponsored activities.
- Check in on online and phone activities, especially social media, which also includes having passwords and scanning apps from time to time. (Partnership to End Addiction, nd).
That’s not to say that you don’t trust your child, but as they look to you to guide them through their teen years, your open communication is a crucial signal to being available for them.
Talking By Age:
Children develop a curiosity around drugs and alcohol around ages 9-11. “It is hard to listen to their parents tell them not to drink or smoke when they see their parents doing it. While children can understand and accept that there are differences between what adults may legally do and what is appropriate and legal for children, do not let your children be involved in your drinking by mixing you a cocktail or bringing you a beer” (Positive Parenting Guide, nd.). Instead of providing a space for your child to see your alcohol or tobacco use, be armed with facts and ways that your child can say no if someone offered some to them.
During ages 12-14, kids are easily influenced and feel they just want to be well-liked and fit in. “Talking to your child about the direct unpleasant consequences of tobacco use, such as bad breath, smelly hair or clothes, or yellow teeth, will be more valuable than discussing the long-term consequences. Kids in this age group are more likely to see older kids doing drugs without seeing immediate consequences, so they are less likely to believe a ‘black-and-white’ statement that drugs, alcohol and tobacco are bad” (Positive Parenting Guide, nd).
Some more resources to help you talk to your child about drugs:
Partnership to End Addiction. Preventing Drug Use: Connecting and Talking With Your Teen. nd. https://drugfree.org/article/connecting-with-your-teen/.
Positive Parenting Guide. Florida Department of Children and Families, Prevent Child Abuse Florida, The Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida, Pinwheels for Prevention Family Development Guide. p35.