Talking to your kids about tough topics like drugs and alcohol can feel like a daunting task. However, these conversations are imperative as you are the most important influence in your child’s life. Check out the tips and resources below for help in planning and navigating these vital discussions:
Some parents are hesitant to address the topics of drugs and alcohol too early. It is important to remember that it is better to introduce the topic to your kids before they are exposed to it by an external influence such as their peers or media. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, children as young as age 9 begin viewing alcohol in a more positive way. Having conversations earlier can shape their viewpoints on this topic, thus impacting their decision when it comes to experimentation.
Maintaining an ongoing conversation will not only help make these discussions easier, but will also be most beneficial. It helps to establish open and positive communication, as well as trust. This can cement your position as your child’s safe and comfortable person to come to for advice.
Set clear and consistent rules and establish what the consequences will be for breaking those rules. Fully understanding how the decision to use drugs or alcohol can affect them will have an impact on the choices they make. When talking about consequences, help them to understand the health and safety risks, potential legal penalties, any family history of addiction which puts them at an increased risk, punishments they will face at home, etc.
Do Your Research.
You can’t talk about what you don’t know. Stay aware of current trends and issues, as they are everchanging. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is a helpful site to begin your research.
Don't Underestimate the Power of Listening.
In order for any type of conversation to be effective, it needs to be a two-way street. Avoid “talking at” your child. Give them a chance to express their viewpoints, feelings, concerns, and questions. Actively listen to what they say and avoid getting angry if their viewpoints differ from yours.
Empower Them With Skills and Strategies.
When kids face peer pressure, they can be influenced to do and say things that they normally wouldn’t. A lot of times they freeze in the moment and give in as they are unsure of what else to say or do. Preparing your children for these situations can empower them stand up to pressure in ways they are comfortable with so they are able to make choices that are best for them. Some peer pressure refusal strategies you can practice with your child include:
- Ask questions: Avoiding a potentially bad situation is easier than finding a way out of one that you’re already in. Teach your kids to find out as much about their plans with friends as possible to prevent them from unexpectedly finding themselves in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation. Asking the right questions to help them understand where they’ll be, what they’ll be doing, and who they’ll be with will help them determine whether or not it’s a good idea to attend.
- Saying no: This one sounds simple, but kids often struggle with it. Nerves may get the best of them, especially in an unexpected situation. Help them practice assertively saying no to an idea that makes them uncomfortable. Remind them that they may need to say no repeatedly before their peers get the message that they aren’t giving in.
- Explain: For some kids, they feel empowered when they are able to back up their “no” with a reason. Maybe they don’t want to try vaping because they are an athlete and value their physical health. Perhaps they are trying to avoid consequences at home like being grounded or having their phone privileges taken away. Many kids find communicating their reasons for saying no to be a helpful strategy.
- Suggest something else: Boredom is one of the main reasons kids engage in poor decision making. When one friend offers an alternate suggestion, they are giving everyone in the group an out and may be surprised by how many of their peers jump at the chance for a safer option.
- Create an escape plan: Even when you are diligent about talking to your kids and preparing them for pressures they may face, it is always a possibility that they find themselves in an uncomfortable situation that they want out of. Have an escape plan that your kids feel safe using any time day or night. Texting is often a way kids can communicate discreetly with their families when they need help. It is also helpful to have a code word or phrase ready for when texting isn’t an option. When your child calls you and mentions this code, it is their way of letting you know they are in a situation they want to escape from.
Follow Through With Your Actions.
What you do is as important as what you say. If you choose to drink, set a good example by modeling responsible adult drinking including moderation and never drinking and driving.
The following resources have additional information for having family prevention conversations:
What if I Suspect My Child is Using Alcohol or Drugs?
Talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol, as well as other tough topics, is an important part of prevention. However, for families who suspect use, the conversation and steps to take change. Check out some of the resources below to learn more: