How to Talk to Your Kids About Drugs and Alcohol (And Actually Have Them Listen)
When it comes to talking about drug and alcohol prevention, it’s never too early to bring up the conversation with your kids. In fact, studies suggest talking to kids as early as pre-school can be the best way to prevent addiction later in life.
But, since bringing up the topic can feel taboo at first, the experts at Caron Treatment Centers created an easy to follow guide to help you get the conversation started. Follow these expert-backed tips to create a strong relationship with your kids early on and keep the conversation alive, even throughout their toughest years.
Help them set boundaries
In preschool kids start to meet new friends on their own. They spend more time with new people, go more places, and learn more about establishing their own boundaries. Talk to your kids about who they’re allowed to take medicine or drinks from—mom, dad, grandparents, school nurses or teachers.
Make sure kids understand not to share drinks or randomly sip from someone else’s cup, especially grown-ups. Even though a drink might look like their own, explain to kids that grown-up glasses could contain alcohol and is only meant for adults.
Explain the consequences
Once your kids start elementary school, they begin to understand there are set rules and facts—it’s your job to provide the why. That’s why it’s important to give your kids straightforward facts they can understand and establish rules that they are to follow. Since kids aren’t totally aware of future consequences, give them facts about the immediate consequences of using drugs and alcohol. An example: Smoking causes bad breath.
See what they see
Kids are glued to television, iPads, and even cell phones, all from a young age. While you can’t always monitor it when they’re away from home, it’s important to be ready to answer and encourage their questions about a character’s behavior on a show or an advertisement about drug or alcohol-related messages.
Instead of flipping to another channel when a question comes up, use the moment to strike up a conversation about the dangers of alcohol and drug use. What kids see and hear can provide a perfect opportunity for you to start the conversation naturally.
Set your rules
Just like at home, you established rules for outside the house, it’s important to establish and enforce similar rules in your home, especially for preteens and teens. Keep your message consistent and constant as they grow up. If you open the line of communication early, your teens will understand the reason behind each rule and, while you might hear some resistance at first, they will appreciate it in the long-run. Research suggests kids with parents who establish rules about drugs and alcohol use are less likely to misuse substances later in life.
As your child goes through puberty, their self-esteem can take a downward turn. Be the positive force that encourages them to make healthy choices in life. Positive reinforcement will keep an open line of communication, and limit the opportunity for drugs and alcohol to come between you and them.
Save your stories
Leave the tales of your high school and college years for when your child is 21 or older. They’ll appreciate your jokes more and you’ll remain in charge. Volunteering your own missteps can make underage drinking seem okay to your kids. Explain and maintain the rules that drinking is an adult privilege.
Practice what you preach
A glass of wine at dinner is a rite of passage for adults. Explain to your child that your drinking is in moderation—and that it’s never okay for adults to abuse alcohol even if it’s legal for them to drink. Create an open dialogue and encourage them to ask questions when they feel something is off or a cause for concern in their life.
Don’t leave the discussion on drugs and alcohol up to your child’s school or friends. Be the one to open a line of communication so both you and your child feel comfortable talking about the topics that concern you.
The dialogue never stops, and no one knows that more than Caron Treatment Centers. In fact, Caron is one of only a few treatment centers that provides extensive outreach to schools and communities on a national and international level regarding alcohol, tobacco and drug education and prevention services. Each year, nearly 100,000 students, teachers and parents are touched by the customized services and programming from Caron’s Student Assistance Program (SAP).
To learn more about drug and alcohol prevention, and the integrated behavioral programs that can help if you suspect a loved one is addicted, visit Caron.org.This is a paid partnership between Caron Treatment Centers and Philadelphia Magazine's City/Studio