How Do I Talk To My Kids About Drugs and Alcohol?

One of the most pressing questions that every parent asks themselves at one time or another is, “How do I talk to my kids about drugs and alcohol?” Even though this may seem like an uncomfortable topic of discussion to bring to the table, it is one of the most important.

Start Early


There are a few key points to keep in mind in order to effectively communicate with your children about the potential pitfalls of drugs and alcohol and make sure that everyone is on the same page. Starting the dialogue early in your children’s lives, making sure that there are continuous open lines of communication within the family, and knowing how to appropriately relate personal experiences and observations, will enable you to talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol effectively.

Even though the conversation about drugs and alcohol seems like an edgy and uncomfortable subject, it doesn’t pay to wait until your child is already a young adult to begin the discussion of your viewpoints and attitudes surrounding the subject. It can be very helpful to start the discussion early on in their lives. This accomplishes a couple of things.


Setting the Tone


First of all, it allows you to set the tone for a very open and honest style of communication within the home, something we will talk more about later. Second, it allows you to send a clear and consistent message starting from an early age surrounding what your beliefs and feelings surrounding drugs and alcohol are. With that being said, a 5 year old is not going to be able to respond and react to information the same way that a 16 year old is. With younger children you can simply begin by taking opportunities to point out dangerous or silly behavior by people under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Maybe at a family event one of your relatives has a few too many drinks and starts acting funny. By pointing this out to your younger child, you can take the opportunity to have a simple conversation about how alcohol makes people do silly things when they have too much.


Ask Questions and Adapt


The biggest thing to remember here is that there is no one size fits all conversation. Adapting dynamically and taking advantage of the opportunities that naturally present themselves is important. As your children get older, the type of conversation will change as well – by the time they are in middle school, you can more directly approach the topic of drugs. Asking questions about what they have learned at the DARE presentation, and beginning to ask about whether or not they know kids that use drugs is appropriate once they are finishing elementary school and beginning middle school. This gives them a chance to talk about drugs with you and lets them know that it is ok to speak about these issues. This continuity and progressively more direct approach, allows the subject to never become taboo, which is counter-productive to communication.

Communication in fact, is the name of the game here. In order to communicate effectively you need to be educated on what drug and alcohol abuse entails and looks like in current youth culture. Do your research surrounding the types of drugs that are abused, what that drug abuse looks like in your community, and the health and legal consequences surrounding that abuse. Staying in the loop with current trends in drug and alcohol abuse is going to keep you on a level playing field with your children. Keeping open and honest lines of communication with your children is something that starts at an early age and has to be nurtured as time goes on.


Stay Involved


Staying involved with your children and their lives not just as disciplinarians but also as participants will foster their willingness to talk with you about hard topics. If your children know that they will be met with an open ear rather than a lecture, they will be more likely to come and talk to you when they first encounter drugs and alcohol, whether it be at a party or just hearing about them around school. The concept of non-judgment does not translate into permissive attitudes, however. Communicate openly and honestly without shaming, but make clear what your opinions and rules of the house are surrounding drug and alcohol abuse. The most effective way to do this is through a discussion of the potential consequences of drug and alcohol abuse. Talking about why you feel the way you do about drugs and alcohol is just as important as letting your children know that you aren’t ok with illicit drug abuse.


Share Your Experience


One of the best ways to convey why you feel the way you do about drugs and alcohol is through your own experience and observations. Now, if you have used drugs and alcohol in the past and your kids ask about it, you don’t have to go into graphic detail. A good way to discuss the topic while remaining honest is by saying something like, “I tried some things I am not proud of and saw the negative effects it had on my life and the people around me. I was fortunate enough to learn from my experience but I saw a lot of people who were not so lucky.” Pointing out the negative consequences you have seen in the lives of acquaintances, in the news, and through other incidents you may have witnessed, will allow you to communicate on a real level based in experience. Sharing why you have chosen to implement certain rules and expectations in your home surrounding drugs and alcohol will go a long way.

Ultimately, keeping open lines of communication in your home and maintaining an active involvement with your children’s lives will prevent the subject of drugs and alcohol from becoming taboo. This is one of the most important things you can do in order to have an understanding of what is happening with your kids. Starting the conversations early in their lives and continuing them as your children grow up sends a message of consistency, and using experience and observation to back your opinions will give your message to your children weight. Be willing to have the conversations that may be uncomfortable!



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