Why is it important?
You may think that talking about drugs and alcohol early will lead to early use. But the exact opposite is true. Research shows that talking about drugs and alcohol helps kids make healthy, responsible choices.
You can start talking about drugs and alcohol with children as young as 7 or 8. But even if your child is older, it's never too late.
How can you talk to your child about drugs and alcohol?
Starting to talk to your child about drugs and alcohol can be as simple as asking, "What are kids at school saying about drugs and alcohol?" Question prompts like this can help you create an open, ongoing dialogue. That way, you don't have to put everything into one big conversation. Instead, you can do what's most effective—have a series of relaxed, relevant conversations over time.
Here are some tips to help do that.
- Look for teachable moments.
If a person is smoking or vaping:
- Ask: Why do you think that person is doing that?
- Explain: Sometimes people do things that aren't good for their bodies. But that doesn't make them bad people. Smoking is one of those things that's not good for your body and can be hard to stop. That's why it's best to never start.
If a movie has a scene of an underage party:
- Ask: Why do you think those kids chose to drink?
- Explain: Drinking can help people feel more comfortable or brave. But there are other ways to feel comfortable and brave that aren't bad for your health or won't affect your ability to make good decisions. What are some ways that you can think of?
When your child comes home from a sports trip, camp, or sleepover:
- Ask: How was the trip/sleepover? Was there anything surprising that happened?
- Explain: I want you to know that we can talk about anything. I promise not to get upset. And I promise to help you make good decisions.
- Craft a simple message, and stick to it.
Here's some language to try.
- Say: I love you very much and want you to have the best possible life. It's my job to protect you from drugs and alcohol. They're harmful and illegal.
- Say: When you're an adult, whether you drink is up to you. But for now, it's illegal. And alcohol can really damage your brain while it's growing.
- Appeal to what they care about.
Parents may care about the long-term risks, like lung cancer or addiction. But kids are more interested in the short-term stuff.
- Say: Smoking gives you bad breath, smelly hair, and yellow teeth.
- Say: Drugs or alcohol can make you less skilled at sports or can get you kicked off a team.
- Help them feel comfortable saying no, and find fun things to say yes to.
Praise them for saying no to things that don't feel good (unsupportive friends, unhealthy food, unwanted touch).
Encourage them to trust themselves and to pursue rewarding activities or relationships. Ask them, "What do you enjoy most?" Guide them toward things that make them feel alive and connected.
You can also practice what to say in a peer-pressure situation. For example:
- "No thanks. I don't drink. And if I did, my mom would ground me for a week."
- "No thanks. I have band practice tomorrow, and I need a clear head."
- "No thanks. Playing on the soccer team is too important to me."
Don't be afraid to start conversations that express your love and care. You have the power to nurture children who make healthy choices.
Where can you learn more?
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