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Age Appropriate Communication about Drug Abuse and Addiction

Mom talking to her middle school daughter about drug use

How young is too young to start talking with your kids about drugs? That may depend on your child. The New York Times recently questioned whether teens were replacing drugs with smart phones. That is partly because there is good news. Teens are less likely to try or use drugs and alcohol than they were in the past.

Nevertheless, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 60 percent of teenagers have tried alcoholic beverages before their senior year of high school. Nearly 50 percent of teens have indulged in illegal drug use by then. If these statistics scare you, you are not alone.

It is essential for parents to start a conversation about drug use and abuse with their kids. This conversation should start in childhood and be ongoing throughout youth and adolescence. Deliver strong, age-appropriate messages every step of the way. Keep these things in mind when talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol.

Toddlers and Preschoolers (Ages 1 to 5)

Toddlers and preschoolers are at an impressionable age. You will not have to worry about them staying out late and trying drugs at this age. However, you should still be proactive. Model healthy living to your toddlers. Teach them strong decision-making skills that can help them later avoid making poor choices about drugs and alcohol.

School-Aged Children (Ages 5 to 10)

“School-aged” children will be more involved with school. They may spend a lot more time with their peers, who may expose them to the ideas of drugs and alcohol. Bring up your views about drugs and alcohol to your kids at these ages. Present facts and discuss the issues in a way that young kids can understand. For example, you may talk about how your children would not be able to do things they love if they were on drugs.

Preteens and Adolescents 

Set strict rules about drug use and drinking when your kids are preteens. Bring up how harmful media messages may be about drug use and abuse, then present the facts. It is also a good idea to point to role models in pop culture who have taken a firm stance against drugs and drinking.

As kids go into their teen years and beyond, you should stick by the rules that you set early on. Continue the dialogue. Listen to your teens’ evolving views on drugs and drinking. For example, a 12-year-old may be against drinking, but a 16-year-old may have more of an open mind. It is important to continue to discuss the issues and give clear reasons why you have the views you do.

Listening is the Cornerstone of Healthy Conversations with Your Kids

Listening to what you kids think and feel is important at every age. Try to start each conversation by listening to what they say. Young people will be interested in engaging in meaningful conversations if they are first heard. Get kids and teens to open up by asking them open-ended questions.

Ask young people the following questions to discern their own thoughts and feelings about drugs:

  • What do you think about kids your age using drugs?
  • Why do you think adults who care about you do not want you to try drugs?
  • What is one thing that would change your mind about having a drink at a party?
  • Do you think there is a connection between drinking and doing illegal drugs?
  • What advice would you give to someone younger who wanted to try marijuana?
  • What sort of peer pressure do you face from people your age who want you to try drugs?
  • What do you think are the differences in trying certain drugs?
  • What process do you go through to determine whether you want to try drugs?
  • Can you help me understand why you do or do not fear the consequences of drugs?
  • What are the challenges your face when it comes to staying drug-free?

Tailor your questions to the personalities and preferences of your kids or teens.

Finally, there has been some overall good news in the fight against teen usage of drugs and alcohol. However, the devastating consequences of drug use among young people persist. It is important to start talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol as early in life as you feel they are prepared to hear the facts. Talk to your kids’ pediatrician or other health care professional if you are not sure whether the time is right to discuss the issues with your kids.

If you find in your discussion with your children that they have developed a substance abuse problem, help is available. Contact us to discuss your concerns confidentially with an addiction counselor.

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