Tips on Talking to Kids About Drugs
As a parent, talking about sex and drugs with your children may seem like navigating mine fields, causing hurt feelings and cold shoulders. Avoiding talking about drugs, however, can have lethal consequences. These helpful tips may make those conversations more meaningful and less damaging.
It’s never too early to lay the foundation. Start the conversation in preschool or kindergarten, but keep it age appropriate. Link the conversation to something they already understand. Children understand that eating unhealthy foods can make them sick, so explaining that drugs do the same thing is a relatable concept. Laying the groundwork with initially simple conversations paves the way for more detailed discussions later.
As they get older, be more overt about the dangers of drug use. For example, “You should never take a medication that doesn’t have your name on it,” can be woven into everyday life skills conversations. It is important with pre-teens to focus on how substance use effects them in the present and avoid discussing long-term effects. When talking to teens, be honest and encourage open communication. Establish clear rules and consequences for behavior while also modeling good behavior. It is a strong possibility that they have experienced a situation in which drugs are being discussed or even used. Speaking honestly – and not overreacting to questions or personal stories – establishes you as a trustworthy confidant.
Don’t stop. As mentioned above, the conversation should continue to progress over the years and never stop. Talk to your children about their friends and what they may know about drugs. It is important to allow them to talk about drug-related topics based on their realities.
When is the right time? It’s okay to have big conversations about drugs, but it is also okay to have smaller conversations. Look for natural teachable moments such as popular athletes or celebrities in the news, maybe song lyrics that you hear on the radio or movies. This can take the emotion out of the conversation and allow your children to share their perspective on drug use.
Allow them to talk. Few people, including children, like one way conversations. It is important for children to feel as if they have a voice at the table. Approach the conversation with openness and empathy, and let them know that you heard them. Remind them that you support them and want to be someone they can talk to about their concerns or questions.
Ask questions. Remember this is not an interrogation but an opportunity for both of you to learn from each other. Asking your children what they know about drugs and drug use allows you to clear up any misconceptions or myths they may have heard.
Talk about peer pressure. Peer pressure is common, and chances are, your children have already experienced it in one way or another. Share a story about how you felt the first time someone offered you alcohol or a cigarette. Remind them that “everyone” is not doing it. The facts indicate that more people are not using drugs and alcohol than those that are.
Coles, T. (2017). How to talk to your kids about drugs without sounding like a PSA: How to get them to listen. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/08/28/how-to-talk-to-kids-about-drugs_a_23188234.
RelayHealth. (2013). Talking to your child about drinking and drugs. CRS – Pediactric Advisor, 1.
Written by David A. Weisenhorn, Senior Extension Specialist for Parenting and Child Development Education, KY Extension. Edited by Lauren Fernandez, Oldham County Extension Staff Assistant.