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How Often Do You Talk with Your Kids about Drugs and Alcohol?

Parents speaking to their teenager.

As parents, you hear the entreaties from all corners of society saying, “Talk to your children about alcohol abuse. Educate them about the dangers of drugs.” You have heard all the studies which say that kids retain a lot about what their parents teach them about the risks of drug use and that they are substantially less likely to use drugs if their parents engage them on the topic.

However, you may be wondering “How often should I bring up the subject? At what age do I start these conversations? And what the heck do I say?”

Better Sometimes Than Never

Let’s address the first question. Recently, a Center on Addiction poll asked parents how often they spoke with their kids about alcohol and drugs. The good news is that almost 30 percent of respondents said they had such conversations on a weekly basis.

Now, the bad news: the most common response to this question was “Never.” Fully 42 percent of parents admitted that these discussions were not taking place in their household.

Discussions At Every Age

While drug talks do not have to happen every week, it is important that you do broach these issues regularly with your kids. A good strategy is to look for “teachable moments” during everyday life and then start some age-appropriate communication about addiction, drug abuse, alcoholism, and other relevant subject matter.

Here are some scenarios where you can start talking with children about drugs at various ages:

  • 2-5 years old: When they notice prescription pill bottles, tell them that they are only allowed to take medicines if their name is on the label.
  • 5-8 years old: When they see an advertisement or a situation on TV that promotes drug or alcohol use, ask them how they feel about what they see and let them know where you stand as well.
  • 8-12 years old: When your child mentions that his or her friends’ siblings or classmates drink or use drugs, give him or her practical advice on what to say if the child is offered booze or drugs – and let him or her know that you are always willing to lend an ear and provide support.
  • 12-17 years old: If your teen comes home smelling like alcohol or smoke, do not freak out and start screaming. Stay calm, be serious, tell him or her that you are disappointed, and impose discipline – but be sure to reiterate that you love him or her.

Honesty (and Clarity) is the Best Policy

One tactic to avoid is the one that you may have experienced as a child, the “Just Say No” approach offered by D.A.R.E. and similar programs of that era. Research has shown these initiatives to be ineffective, probably because they focused more on lectures and admonishment instead of facts and information.

Dad talking to his son both smiling and engaging.

This is not to say that you should not set clear limits and boundaries for your kids and spell out the consequences of flouting them. The key is to maintain an open and honest dialogue about alcohol and drugs, rely on facts instead of platitudes, and challenge the societal norms and glorified images of drug and alcohol use to which your child is constantly being exposed. If you feel comfortable, it is okay to mention any of your own past drug or alcohol use, as long as you do not speak in nostalgic tones, do emphasize the negative impact it had on your life, and do say what lessons you learned from the experiences.

To sum up, the short answer to the questions above is “early, often, and honestly.” Sure, some of these conversations may be difficult or awkward, but if you strive to provide straight answers about alcohol and tips to prevent teen drug abuse, rest assured that they will pay off in the long run when your child is tempted to drink or use drugs.

If you are worried that your child may be abusing drugs or alcohol, contact us for information on how to confront this problem.

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