For many parents, regularly talking to their children about addictive substances can be challenging. With this in mind, we asked our readers, “How often do you talk to your children about drugs and alcohol?”
While nearly one-third of respondents said they talk to their kids about this important topic every week, the most common response was never, which received 40 percent of the votes.
If you consider yourself a part of this 40 percent, here are some tips from our Family Day Parent Toolkit on how to have these difficult conversations:
Set Limits. Be clear, direct and honest when setting limits. Let your children know you do not want them using substances, and lay out the specific consequences if they break that rule. Explain your reasons for not wanting them to use substances and engage them in a conversation about the harmful consequences.
Bring it up. Make talking with your children about substance use a natural part of your continuing discussion with them, rather than just a onetime event. It shouldn’t be a taboo subject that no one in your household wants to broach.
Focus on the facts. When discussing alcohol and other drugs, be honest and focus on the facts. Educate yourself about dangers of teen substance use and show them you are a good source of information they can come to in the future.
Challenge social norms. Challenge any misconceptions your child has about alcohol or drugs (e.g. “Everybody experiments,” or “Marijuana isn’t addictive”). Tell your child that we know a lot more today about the dangers of smoking, drinking, and drug use for teens than we did years ago. Highlight that it may take years to fully understand how dangerous newer drugs or things like e-cigarettes are for teens and why it is best to avoid them completely.
Find teaching opportunities. Use news, TV shows, online videos, or real-life situations as teaching opportunities. Children and teens are bombarded daily by advertising and media messages about alcohol and drugs. Talk with your children about the media’s influence and encourage them to think critically about these messages.
Be honest. If your child asks about your history of substance use as a teen, don’t lie. It is best to either be honest or to choose to keep parts of your own experiences private. Focus the conversation on why your child is asking. If you’re talking about your own history, focus on your goal of helping them avoid substance use. Don’t share more than necessary; focus on what you’ve learned since you were a kid, and ways you hope they can learn from your mistakes.
Maintain open dialogue. You want your child to feel safe telling you the truth, even if it might be upsetting. This includes the truth about a friend. Remind your child that being a good friend means letting someone know if you are concerned your friend might have a problem with drugs or alcohol.