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How to Talk to Your Kids About Drugs

Another school year is here. New classes, new friends, new adventures. And, new concerns. We send our kids out the door, to a new chapter of life, hoping we’ve properly prepared them for what they will encounter.

But, have we? Did we cover all the bases?

When was the last time you talked to your child about substance use? It’s a hard conversation, because talking about it brings it to their attention and maybe if we don’t say anything, we can shield them from the dangers.

While the desire to protect our kids is understandable, avoiding the topic isn’t the best approach. Whether we talk with them about it nor not, they are being bombarded from a young age with messages that smoking, drinking and drugs are ok – “cool” even – as long as you don’t get carried away with it. But, that’s the problem… Trying something, even once, is too much in many cases.

  • By 8th grade, 28% of adolescents have consumed alcohol, 15% have smoked cigarettes, and 16.5% have used marijuana.
  • In PA, 17.6% of youth age 12-17 say they’ve consumed alcohol in the past 30 days. 7.5% binged alcohol in the past two weeks and 1.4% drove while intoxicated.
  • 1 in 15 PA Middle School students and 1 in 4 PA High School students have vaped in the past 30 days
  • 50% of high school seniors do not think it’s harmful to try crack or cocaine once or twice and 40% believe it’s not harmful to use heroin once or twice.
  • According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 180,000 adolescents ages 12-17 received treatment for a drug or alcohol problem in 2016.

But, there is good news, too…
Teens who consistently learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50% less likely to use drugs than those who don’t.

Here are a few tips to make the conversation a bit easier:

Start early (Preschool age isn’t too soon)
Parent Magazine published a great article about how to broach the topic at any age and build a solid foundation.

Set expectations and consequences
Substance use is a serious issue. It’s not enough to just say “don’t do drugs.” Lay out a clear plan explaining what the rules are in your home and what the consequences will be if they break those rules.

Focus on the positive
The conversation doesn’t need to be all negative and scary information. Point out the positives as well. Yes, 17.6% of PA youth have used alcohol in the past 30 days. But, 82.4% have not! When they feel pressured to take part because “everyone is doing it,” they can know that they are not in the minority for making wise choices.

Create a safe space where kids feel free to come to you
As you are talking and laying out a plan with your child, it is important to make them feel safe and comfortable so they will come to you. Many times there are underlying issues beyond peer pressure that cause young people to seek out substances. Be sure to create a safe environment where your child feels comfortable coming to you to discuss those issues rather than turning to substances as a bandaid.

Be a good role model
Most importantly, young people learn by example. It’s ok to be open and share your experiences at their age – they will probably ask – but, if you do, be prepared to answer questions honestly and explain in hindsight what you would have done differently.

Keeping our kids safe and headed on the path to adulthood can be daunting at times. But, break it down into easy steps. Seek out resources to help you frame your conversations. The internet is a great resource. And, check your area for community programs to help educate and prepare you.

You’ve got this!

Written by Angel Nace, BS, TTS – TrueNorth Drug and Alcohol Prevention Specialist, with input from Anita Crawford.