It’s never too early to start talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol, and chances are your kids are already wondering about them. Our children are bombarded daily with images and ideas about drugs and alcohol.
Whether through the grocery store, television commercials, friends, school, or even family members who take prescribed medications, our children are constantly being given ideas about these substances.
With colorful prescription medications appearing like candy, flavored tobacco and alcohol products, and street drugs catching trendy nicknames, it can seem overwhelming to shield your children from the road to abusing drugs and alcohol. However, it is not too late to help shape the way your kids view drugs and alcohol, and it is never too early to start this conversation.
At What Age Do I Talk To My Kids About Drugs and Alcohol Abuse?
KidsHealth recommends starting this conversation as early as preschool, pointing out that if parents do not open this dialogue, their children will seek out answers in other places. You can adjust the conversation to your child’s age, making it easy to start this talk now, no matter how old your children are.
Even at a young age, our children sometimes get ill and require medication; this can be a perfect opportunity to talk to your preschooler about the benefits and dangers of medications and the importance of never taking anything that isn’t given by you, all while using their illness as a teachable moment.
Starting a new school year or a new sport can be the perfect opportunity to start this conversation with an older child. Don’t be afraid to ask your kids about drug or alcohol use in their schools or by their friends, and try to get them to share anything they’ve heard or want to know.
Educate Yourself Before Approaching Them
An important part of educating your kids on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse is also educating yourself. Your children will have real questions, so it is important that you have honest and realistic answers.
Additionally, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol:
- Set boundaries – Household rules regarding drug and alcohol use should be clear and enforced.
- Be honest – Base your messages to your kids on facts, rather than fear.
- Stay current – The world is constantly evolving and so are drugs, so stay current and educated.
- Encourage health – Get your kids involved in healthy and creative activities outside of school.
- Look for teachable moments – A movie scene, a song lyric or a celebrity overdose: Use these things as an opportunity to start or continue your conversation about drugs and alcohol.
- Teach your kids the word no – Teach them to stand up to peer pressure and to say no when they need to.
- Be approachable – Remain calm and make it comfortable for your kids to talk to you about their lives.
What Do I Do If My Teen Won’t Listen?
If your child is in his or her teenage years, any advice you have on avoiding drugs or alcohol may either be met with eyerolls or hostility. It’s best to not bring up this topic out of the blue with teens, but instead do so as naturally as possible when you’re already immersed in a productive conversation.
It’s best to make it clear at the beginning that you just want to hear them out with no judgment. Ask them what they’ve personally seen or heard about regarding drug and alcohol use at school. The best way to get them to talk in detail is to ask open-ended questions and try to get them to carry most of the conversation.
Listening quietly will be key on your part. Try to get them to go beyond one-word answers, and gently prod for details. Keeping your body language and tone in check will be crucial, too.
You also want to remain calm if something they say shocks you. Thank them for their honesty. Withhold any type of big reaction or course of punishment until after the conversation. Be sure to offer genuine praise where applicable, especially if they tell you about a time where drugs were around but they avoided partaking.
If all else fails and you just can’t stir up this conversation fully, you can opt to enlist the help of a counselor who will serve as a neutral, nonjudgmental third party to get your teen talking and thinking about the issue more deeply.
What If I Suspect My Child Is Already Abusing Drugs or Alcohol?
Some of the signs of drug use in teens include:
- Changes in hygiene or physical appearance – unusual smells on clothing or breath, bloodshot eyes, disheveled appearance, etc.
- Changes in behavior – breaking curfew frequently, avoiding eye contact, locking doors more often, using gum or eye drops often, etc.
- Mood and personality shifts – more emotionally unstable, withdrawn, hostile, hyperactive or secretive than before.
- Missing work or school frequently – or an overall decrease in performance at both/either.
Of course, finding drug paraphernalia or empty prescription or liquor bottles are the more obvious signs of substance use.
If you suspect your child is experimenting with harmful substances, don’t confront them in a hostile or accusatory way. Don’t try to do this at a moment where you might suspect he or she is high, drunk or hungover.
As with having a more general talk with your teen about drugs, try to ask open-ended questions, listen carefully, let them do most of the talking, and try to withhold any judgment or punishment until after the conversation. Keep your emotions in check and don’t react in hostile or angry way in the moment.
After the conversation, you can then start setting new boundaries and planning the steps you will take based on how the discussion went.
Steps You Can Take to Help Prevent Teenage Drug and Alcohol Abuse
To help your teen avoid drug and alcohol abuse, set boundaries and expectations in the home ahead of time. You may want to do this before they enter high school – possibly even during the middle school years. You may have to remind them of these guidelines on an annual basis.
You should also keep close tabs on your teen during this crucial time. This means asking to know which friends they’re hanging out with and where they’re going every time they go out. It could also mean asking them to call and check in with you every time they’re out late.
It also helps to ask neighbors to keep an eye on your home whenever you’re at work and your teen might be home from school. Additionally, don’t forget to monitor your liquor and medicine cabinets to make sure you’re not missing anything that you shouldn’t be.
For a more proactive approach, try to make sure they’re signed up for extracurricular activities, such as sports teams, clubs, theater, etc. These will give children more healthy outlets for expressing themselves, and will reduce the downtime that can lead to boredom and possibly experimentation.
Let your teen know ahead of time what the consequences for drug and alcohol use will be. Perhaps it will be to enroll them in a treatment program if they’re found with any hard drugs. Or maybe they will lose certain privileges. YOU get to determine the guidelines and enforce them accordingly.
What If I Can’t Seem to Get My Child to Stop Using?
If you’re at the point where you know your child is using and it keeps happening over and over despite your wishes, then you’re at the point where it’s time to reach out for professional help. A high-quality addiction treatment program can be the solution to get them back on the right path. We’ve created an eBook that will help you understand how to get your child into professional rehab.