How Do I Talk To My Kids About Drugs & Alcohol?
“My Kids Don’t Listen To Me!”
Often we feel like our kids don’t listen to us. The fact is: a child is up to 50% less likely to abuse substances if a parent or role model discusses the dangers of drugs with them, (www.timetotalk.org). A recent research report showed that almost 60 percent of teens have talked with their parents about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, and those 60 percent of teens were less likely to abuse than the 40 percent who had not talked with their parents. This report also showed that parents were less likely to talk to their teens about drugs the older they got, which is a dangerous trend, since we know that teenagers are more at risk for abuse later in their teen years.
What does this mean? It means that you need to talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol. Failing to do so will put them at greater risk for abusing; but simply talking to them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, and clearly stating that you do not want them to use drugs, will decrease their likelihood for abusing substances and help protect them against the dangers of drugs. You might think they aren’t listening, but they are!
So How Do I Talk To Them?
This a question we hear from concerned parents on a regular basis. It can be hard to talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol, especially if you have never approached this subject with them. But the fact is, most kids want and expect their parents to speak to them about drugs and alcohol. We recently surveyed teenagers all over the southwest counties, and we asked them what they thought adults could do to prevent kids from doing drugs. Over 90% of the youth surveyed said that parents need to talk to their kids about drugs and alcohol. Almost all of the responses were very similar to this answer, given by a 13-year-old girl: “If adults want to stop us from doing drugs, they should tell us not to do them. My mom never say’s anything to me about it. I would probably be embarrassed if she did… and snotty about it, but I still wish she would try.”
If parents start talking to their kids about these issues at an early age, it will not be awkward to continue these talks throughout their lives. If you have never spoken to your kids about drugs and alcohol, the initial conversation may be difficult, but it will get easier, and your kids will appreciate it. Parental disapproval is the number one reason teens don’t drink alcohol, (www.parentsempowered.org) but your children need to know that you don’t approve of them drinking.
Tips On Starting The Conversation:
Look for teachable moments: You don’t need to sit down and have a formal discussion. Starting a conversation about alcohol, tobacco and drugs can be conducted while playing a board game, cleaning the house, driving them to practice or to a friend’s house, sitting around the dinner table. A good way many parents have discovered is to bring up the conversation when drug references come up in the T.V. shows you are watching or in songs you may hear on the radio. When you see a tv character using drugs, ask your kids what they think about it. The Super Bowl is a great time to bring up the question
Start Early and Keep It Simple: Take an active role in teaching your children. Don’t expect the school to do it for you; parents have the greatest influence on their kids. Start early, many kids in Southern Utah start drinking in the sixth grade. National studies show that the average age when a child first tries alcohol is 11; for marijuana, it’s 12. Be firm and clear about your rules and expectations. It is ok to say, “We don’t allow any drugs in our home, and children in this family are not allowed to drink alcohol.”
Be A Good Role Model: Your actions speak louder than your words. Maintain a healthy lifestyle and it is likely your kids will too.
DON’T Use Fabricated Scare Tactics: Always use facts. Kids know… If you exaggerate the effects of alcohol and drug use, they will dismiss everything you say about it. Trying to scare them will not work.
SPEND TIME WITH THEM: Your kids will more willingly listen to your advice and counsel if there is a close bond between you. These bonds are developed by interacting and spending time with your children. Teens who have dinner with their parents on a regular basis are 33% less likely to smoke and drink, (http://www.parentsempowered.org/articles/read/6).
SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS: Ask them to share their experiences and opinions about teens who use. Then tell them how you feel and what you expect from them. You can establish a No-Use Policy by saying something like:
- “There’s a lot of new science about teens, drugs and alcohol. It scares me to know how easily you could damage your brain or get addicted. I want your word that you’ll steer clear of all that, and keep me in the loop on the kids you hang out with, too.”
The parentsempowered.org website offers three tips for creating tighter bonds with your kids: 1) Create a positive, loving home environment. Do fun activities together regularly, be kind and respectful. 2) Have daily positive interaction. Take time to talk with your kids about their interests and activities. Compliment them; make sure they know they are loved. 3) Pay attention to their emotional well being. Watch for signs of excess stress or depression; listen to them with empathy for their concerns. Spend 15 minutes a day of one-on-one time. (http://parentsempowered.org/solution-bonding)
Repeat the message
Some day’s your child may not listen to you, some days they may be more receptive than others. These messages are important and should be repeated frequently. Start having these conversations with your kids early on, and continue on into adulthood. Parents tend to stop talking to their kids about drugs and alcohol as they get older, but this is when kids are most vulnerable to abuse. Repeat the message.
Below is a list of resources that may help parents in talking with their kids. We have also included links to many websites that we feel give excellent advice and information.
- Download the TimeToTalk Talk Kit to help parents begin discussions about drugs and alcohol with their kids, and/or visit www.TimeToTalk.org for more information.
- Steve Danzig. (2007). (PAGE 5). How To Talk To Your Kids About Using Drugs And Alcohol Before There is A Problem. Published by Raymond Roadrunner newspaper-Fall 2007- PAGE 5
The Prevention & Education Offices at Southwest Behavioral Health Center maintain a library with information, pamphlets, DVD’s and books for parents and educators to check out. Please visit your local office for a listing of available resources.