What are Some Effective Approaches for Starting the Conversation About Drugs and Alcohol With Your Kids?November 15th, 2016
This month we’re delighted to have Tufts University School of Medicine’s Margie Skeer, ScD, MPH, MSW join us as our guest blogger to discuss tips for how to talk about drugs and alcohol with your kids.
Most parents know that talking with their kids about alcohol and drugs is important. But it may feel incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. If you’re having some difficulties approaching this topic with your child, you’re not alone.
Why is this such a challenge for parents?
First, alcohol is legal and parents may drink around their children (which is okay if they do so responsibly), so they may feel uncomfortable with a “do as I say, not as I do” approach. Second, many parents have used alcohol or other drugs when they were teens and are not sure what to say if their child asks them about their own past use. Finally, parents may not feel equipped to have conversations because they may not know enough about alcohol or certain drugs to answer any questions that may arise. Does this sound familiar to you?
Luckily, there are ways to get past these obstacles. Here are some approaches that you may find useful in starting a conversation about alcohol and drugs with your child.
- First, it is very important to use credible resources (many are online) to educate yourself about alcohol and drugs and what they can do to adolescent brains and bodies, and to your child’s life. For example, check out the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Drug Facts, which is designed for teens: https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts. You can also take a look at CASA Family Day’s tips for talking to your kids about drugs: http://casafamilyday.org/familyday/tools-you-can-use/talking-to-your-kids/. Tools like these will make you feel more informed and ready to start this important conversation.
- When it’s time to actually start the discussion, do it in a way that feels natural. For example, if a celebrity gets caught using drugs or gets pulled over for drinking while driving, which unfortunately happens frequently, you can use this as an opportunity for a conversation about substance use. If there is an incident in your town or in your child’s school where a student is using substances, this presents another opening and chance to talk. Any way it gets started, this conversation should happen often and it could even be as simple as saying to your child: “I wanted to know if you had any questions about alcohol or drugs” or asking, “Do you know anybody or if you’ve heard of anybody in your school who’s drinking alcohol or using marijuana?” which can be a really nice entryway into the conversation.
- Another strategy is to tell your child that you want them to be able to tell you anything and to be able to have open conversations, even if it is something that may be embarrassing or might be hard to talk about. Let your child know that you’ll answer any questions they have to the best of your ability. You want to make sure that your child gets the right information from you, rather than hearing it from somebody at school, a friend, or a friend’s older sibling.
- There are also excellent resources online that have sample starter conversations if you prefer to have a script to get the conversation started. For example, this site from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides information and even an app to help start the conversation: “Talk. They Hear You”: http://www.samhsa.gov/underage-drinking.
Try to establish a healthy and trusting relationship with your child by communicating and connecting with them on a daily basis about issues big and small. But do make sure to discuss the topic of alcohol and drugs frequently. Although they may not say it, your child most likely wants to talk to you and share their thoughts and concerns. Try some of the strategies above with your child at dinner tonight.