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How to Talk to Your Kids About Drugs and Alcohol

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Most kids end up trying drugs or alcohol at least once or more during their teenage years. Studies have shown that a reasonably high percentage of kids have already tried alcohol while in high school. The dangers of children experimenting with drugs and/or alcohol are unsafe and illegal. Despite this fact, kids often easily give into peer pressure. A good way for parents and other trusted adults to help keep this problem at bay is to discuss drug and alcohol use and abuse with their children and students early and to continue talking with them as they get older and enter their teenage years.

Consequences of Drug and Alcohol Use

The best way to keep children from using or abusing alcohol or drugs is to let them know about the consequences of drug and alcohol use in advance. Younger aged children who use drugs and alcohol are in danger of having their ability to understand reality altered so severely that they will undoubtedly make bad decisions. Children lack basic problem-solving skills, so using a substance that can alter their brain function is very dangerous.

Short and long-term effects are two main consequences, and each one has its own important and dangerous implications. The short-term effects of using alcohol and drugs include painful hangovers, bad breath, impaired eyesight, and hand-eye coordination, distorted and poor hearing, inability to grasp feelings and emotions, and bad judgment that can lead to much worse consequences. The long-term consequences can include teenage pregnancy, addiction, drinking and driving, unsafe and early sex, drowning, and serious injury or even death. Even longer-term effects include liver disease, stomach problems, vitamin deficiency, damage to the central nervous system, heart disease, memory loss and possible death from overdose.

Create a Dialogue

Talking to elementary and middle school-aged kids is an essential and very effective way for parents to help prevent them from using alcohol and drugs when it’s offered to them by their peers. Parents should help to encourage their kids to ask any questions they have about alcohol and drugs. Children are naturally curious and as they are exposed to substance topics, parents should be prepared to answer any questions that may arise. Creating a healthy dialogue between parent and child is important and can begin as young as age 11, which is approximately the sixth-grade level. Educating your kids about the negative effects of drug and alcohol use may decrease their potential of experimenting at a young age. Middle school is the perfect time for parents to reinforce the consequences of using these substances.

Talking with your child about drugs is an important and vital conversation. Too many parents these days avoid talking with their children because they feel uncomfortable, don’t want to seem lame or even think that schools provide them with enough information to do the job. Sadly, all of these reasons are exactly why you need to talk to your children at a young age about the dangers of experimenting with drugs. It’s important to provide them with the necessary information so that if they are ever offered drugs, they have the confidence to say no.

Creating an atmosphere of open dialogue fosters a healthy environment in which to talk to your children about drugs. When children don’t feel comfortable talking with their parents or asking them questions they will often search for information elsewhere. This information may not be credible and can put them in risky and unsafe situations. Parents themselves need the education to talk to their children about this extremely important topic. Learning about the effects of drug abuse and other facts will help to clear up misconceptions that your child might have.

Don’t think that the conversation has to wait until your child has been exposed to drugs. The fact is, the sooner the talk with them happens and is made a part of your regular health discussions, the more likely they are to have the desire and be prepared to say no to drugs. Remember that parents are role models for their child, so a parent’s view on drugs, alcohol, and tobacco will affect their child’s decisions.

Preschool to Age 7

Take advantage of the time and attention that your children want to give you when they are young. This is the age where your children will be most attentive to your behavior and guidance, so don’t pass up on teaching opportunities. There are many opportunities available for you to talk with your kids about properly using medication. Think about it: When you give your child some medicine you can share how you should only take the recommend amount and follow the directions.

Investigate the TV shows and the commercials that your children are exposed to. This can seem overwhelming at first, but preparing yourself by researching is your best defense.

Remember that you need to keep the tone of this conversation calm and collected. Use words that your child will be familiar with or easy to explain. Don’t think this conversation should happen only once when your children are little. Keeping your conversation length to an appropriate amount of time will also help your child remember what you taught. Have conversations regularly and encourage your child to ask questions.

Ages 8 to 12

When your child gets older, start the conversation by asking what they think about drugs. They will really appreciate this because it will let them express themselves and know that their thoughts matter. Let them express their feelings and ask any questions that they might have.

Reinforcing good dialogue when they are still young enough to want to listen to you is an important lesson to learn. Don’t worry if your questions don’t prompt an in-depth discussion at first because simply asking them what they think will get them thinking about the effects of drugs. Letting your kids know that you are willing and open to talk about drugs is one of the most important things a parent can do.

The use of drugs is so evident in our mainstream entertainment like acting, sports, and music. Take advantage of your child’s interest in sports and explain to them that the best athletes are those who keep their bodies free from harmful toxins. Explain the dangers of drugs such as steroids and how they can lead people to even worse drugs.

Ages 13 to 17

You can’t shield your kids; most children know people who have access to drugs and alcohol. You need to reinforce what you have taught your child over the years about the harmful effects of drugs and how they can say no to them and even avoid them altogether. Don’t rule out that your kids aren’t willing to talk with you about drugs just because they are teenagers. Many are open to having a discussion about things in their life.

Having conversations regularly with your kids about the effects of drugs and alcohol will help to encourage them to avoid substance abuse altogether. Use these conversations to express the consequences of participating in these activities such as jail time and fines. Even explain that their actions affect others and if they engage in drug-related activities it could cost somebody their life.

Discuss with your family the idea of drawing up a written contract about drugs, alcohol and other harmful substances. Explain to them that if they are in a sticky situation or something is making them feel uncomfortable that they can call you any time to pick them up. Be sure to share with them the consequences of breaking this contract such as loss of privileges, like driving.

Laying Good Groundwork

No one is immune to the effects of drugs. Children everywhere will at one point in time come in contact with some drug. Preparing them to know what to do in these difficult circumstances is the best defense.

Get your whole family involved with the fight against drugs and be mindful of the friends they keep. Studies have shown that kids with friends who use drugs are most likely to experiment with drugs themselves. Children who also are experiencing family conflict, depression or loneliness are more likely to turn to drugs as a coping mechanism. Get to know their friends and their families, understand what they are going through at school and encourage them to get involved in extracurricular activities.

A great activity to try with your kids is role playing what to do when they are put in difficult situations. Play out scenarios about different environments they might be in where they could come in contact with drugs. Discuss with each other the best ways to avoid them and even come up with phrases that they are comfortable with saying if they are ever offered drugs.

Make your home a safe environment where your kids can talk with you about their concerns and you can share your thoughts. Be sure to listen and give them a chance to express themselves. One of the best ways to teach is simply to listen. Finding fun activities to do together will help create open communication among all family members.

Just Say “No”

Teaching kids to just say “no” when offered drugs or alcohol is still the easiest and most effective way of keeping them away from the horrible effects of alcohol and drug use and abuse. Everyone has the ability to make their own choices, and this also applies to use drugs or alcohol. Kids need to be taught a variety of ways to set limits using their own judgment to say “no” to alcohol and drugs. Different ways of saying no will help them in social situations that they may face at school, parties and hanging out with friends. Just saying, “No thanks,” can be an effective way for kids to stay away from substance abuse. It sets a boundary with the other person who is offering the drugs or alcohol and lets them know immediately that the child is not interested.

If your teen is at a party and is offered drugs or alcohol, a simple shaking of the head, “No”, is all that is needed. If things get to be too much or your child feels pressured, they can always call you and/or leave the situation. Cell phones are another way for parents to ensure safety for their children who are attending parties. A child may call a parent when they feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed from peer pressure.  Another tip is for kids to ask their friends questions when they are offered drugs or alcohol. Sometimes, just asking a peer where they got something will deter them from offering it or even doing it themselves.

Drinking and drug use are big problems for kids today. Early education about staying away from drugs and alcohol is effective. Parents should be educated about substance abuse in order to teach their children about the consequences of drugs and alcohol use.

For more information about kids and drugs or alcohol use, please refer to the following websites:

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