How Can I Help Prevent It? / Talk About It

Talk About It

Drugs and alcohol are not easy topics to bring up. Especially with children and teens who may often seem like they’re not listening—or don’t care what you have to say.

But the truth is that children care deeply about their parents’ opinions—even if they don’t show it directly. In fact, the #1 reason kids give for not drinking or using drugs is that they don’t want to disappoint their parents.1 And children who learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are significantly less likely to use drugs.2

In addition to discussing alcohol and drugs with your teen, talking about mental health issues can help bring to light feelings that are too often kept secret, making them less scary and leaving the door open for your child to talk to you about her concerns.3 For more information about promotion of resiliency and the prevention of mental health disorders, visit the Vermont Department of Mental Health and the Vermont Suicide Prevention Center.

Tips From Parents Like You: How to Ask

 
Vermont parents know it’s important to have conversations with their kids about alcohol and drug use. It’s important for parents to remember that it’s not just the questions you ask, but it also depends on how you ask the questions.

Tips From Teens Like Yours: How to Approach Me

Tips from teens like yours

Keep the door open:
Keep it natural. Keep it positive.

Nothing makes teens shut down faster than an angry, judgmental, or lecturing parent. To get through to your child about the dangers of underage drinking and drug use—and keep the door open for future conversations—do your best to keep it natural and positive.
 

10 STEPS TO POSITIVE COMMUNICATION WITH TEENS

Get yourself calm and centered before approaching your child. If you’re upset, try doing some yoga, going for a walk, or just taking a few deep breaths before engaging with her.
Avoid announcing “the talk.” Instead, look for opportunities to work your concerns into everyday conversations.
Look for settings that offer privacy but don’t feel too constricting or distracting. Like talking while taking the dog for an after-dinner walk in the park.
Rather than looking for ways to criticize your teen’s views or actions, look for ways to praise what he’s doing right and express concern—rather than judgment—where needed. For example, instead of saying you’re “disappointed” in him, let him know you’re “worried” about him.
It’s not just your words, but your body language that counts. Avoid “looming over” a teen who is seated while you’re standing. And work to keep your facial expressions and body posture open and relaxed, avoiding heavy frowning, finger pointing, or crossed arms that can make you look defensive or angry.
The old “scared straight” approach is outdated and usually unhelpful. Instead of horror stories, stick to discussing tangible consequences and the good reasons to avoid them.
Praise the good in your child—whether she’s doing well in school, sports, or other activities—as well as her general character. And let her know she’s too smart and has too much going on in her life to need drugs or alcohol.
You can do this by asking questions that encourage your child to elaborate and then repeating back to your child what you’re hearing from him. And don’t cut the conversation short—make sure your child has been able to express everything he needs to.
Be an active participant in helping your child figure out how to avoid drugs and alcohol at school, parties, or other situations. For example, brainstorm ideas for how she can contact you without others knowing if she needs help getting out of a risky situation—and let her know you’ll come get her anytime, anywhere if she needs you.
It’s good to have a goal going into a talk with your teen. But if you don’t get there on the first—or second or third—try, don’t sweat it. Getting through to your teen can take time and it’s often better to let a tough topic go and come back to it later than to force a confrontation.

 
Sources for tips: Make a Difference: Talk to Your Child about Alcohol. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/MakeADiff_HTML/MakeAdiff.pdf. Revised 2009. Accessed July 22, 2016; Marijuana Talk Kit: What you need to know to talk with your teen about marijuana. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids website. http://www.drugfree.org/MJTalkKit/. Accessed July 22, 2016.
 

It’s never too early—or too late—to start the conversation. Here are some tips that may help at different ages:

  • Talk through the day-to-day issues your child is facing.
    Whether it’s challenges with school, sports, or friends, take time to talk through your child’s problems. Together, you can work to find long-lasting solutions that will help your child now—and help her understand that quick fixes are not the answer.4
  • Provide accurate information about drugs and alcohol.
    Explain that drinking alcohol before age 21 is against the law—and doing illicit drugs is illegal regardless of age. Make sure your child knows that even if marijuana may be legal in some states, it is still illegal for youth to use. Also talk about some of the dangers of drugs and alcohol. In the early grade-school years, stick with short-term side effects like the fact that drugs or too much alcohol can make people throw up, become very angry, or get into car crashes. And using marijuana can actually change a child’s brain, making it harder to learn, remember things, and pay attention.5
  • Talk about the proper way to use medication.
    Tell your child that all medicines, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, are powerful and can be harmful when misused. Emphasize that people should only ever take a prescription medication that is specifically prescribed for them by their doctor, and should always follow their doctor’s directions on how often—and how much—of the medicine to take.6
  • Discuss your rules and expectations for your child’s behaviors.7
    Be clear about what you expect and explain the reasons behind your decisions. As your child gets older and begins to test those rules, be sure to enforce the set consequences. Studies show that children whose parents consistently enforce the rules are less likely to drink alcohol or use drugs.8
  • Keep an open dialogue about the messages your child is receiving from the media.
    She may be seeing TV shows, movies, or magazines that glamorize alcohol, smoking, drugs, or an unrealistic ideal of body image. Asking your child how she feels about what she’s seeing around her can help you understand how media messages are affecting her—and talking about it can help her learn to separate fantasy from reality.9
  • Be a positive role model:
    • If you drink, be aware of why and how often you drink in front of your child. Show positive ways to handle stress. Don’t make casual comments about “needing a drink to relax” after a difficult day. Don’t drink and drive.
    • Provide nonalcoholic drinks at your adult parties. Don’t pressure others to use alcohol if they don’t drink.
    • Don’t have your children serve drinks in your home, and don’t ask them to get you a beer from the fridge.
    • If you don’t use alcohol, explain to your children why you have made that choice.
    • If you have a family history of drug or alcohol problems, talk about it with your child in the same way you would any other chronic disease, like heart disease or cancer. The key is to match the amount of information with the context of your child’s questions and your child’s maturity level. It’s best to avoid recounting your own youthful experimentation because your child may get the wrong idea that it’s harmless.10
  • For more information on how to talk to your child about the dangers of alcohol, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

  • Help your child feel safe, valued, and empowered.
    Make it clear to your child that you are always there to listen and support him and work to instill in him a sense of self-worth and power. You can do this in small ways, such as praising his efforts (not just his achievements) regularly,11 supporting his decisions, encouraging him to pick out the clothes or activities he likes instead of following the latest trends, and letting him know that it’s okay to walk away from places—or friends—that make him feel uncomfortable or bad about himself.12
  • Talk to your child’s friends and their parents.
    Ask the parents about the messages they’re giving their children about these issues so you can make sure you’re all on the same page.13

  • Continue what you started in grade school.
    Praising your child’s efforts regularly, supporting her decisions, helping her work through challenges, explaining your rules and expectations, and keeping an open dialogue about drugs, alcohol, media influences, emotions, and other issues are all still important in the middle-school years. The goal is to build up your child’s confidence and assure her that she is strong enough to fight off peer pressure.14
  • Make time to talk each day, and set aside family time each week to check in with each other.
    Consistently showing interest in your child’s daily life will help you build trust and openness so that you don’t suddenly surprise him with “the talk” about drugs one day.15 As schedules get busier for the whole family, setting aside specific times to talk as a family can be very helpful in identifying and working through problems together.16
  • Be a positive role model:
    • If you drink, be aware of why and how often you drink in front of your child. Show positive ways to handle stress. Don’t make casual comments about “needing a drink to relax” after a difficult day. Don’t drink and drive.
    • Provide nonalcoholic drinks at your adult parties. Don’t pressure others to use alcohol if they don’t drink.
    • Don’t have your children serve drinks in your home, and don’t ask them to get you a beer from the fridge.
    • If you don’t use alcohol, explain to your children why you have made that choice.
    • If you have a family history of drug or alcohol problems, talk about it with your child in the same way you would any other chronic disease, like heart disease or cancer. The key is to match the amount of information with the context of your child’s questions and your child’s maturity level. It’s best to avoid recounting your own youthful experimentation because your child may get the wrong idea that it’s harmless.17
  • For more information on how to talk to your child about the dangers of alcohol, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

  • Act it out.
    As your child moves into middle school, he will be surrounded by new, older kids and temptations—and he’ll need to be prepared for situations that may arise. Rehearse scenarios with your child and help him come up with firm excuses he’s comfortable using to say no to peer pressure.18 This might be anything from a straightforward “I’m just not into drinking” to an excuse such as “I’ve got a soccer game tomorrow.”19
  • Add onto the facts about alcohol and drugs that you started with in grade school.
    Be sure to stress the dangers of not only illicit drugs, but also alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs, and inhalants (everyday products like cleaning fluids, markers, or glue). For help in answering your child’s questions about alcohol, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) “Talk: They Hear You” Website. For in-depth facts about a range of drugs, consult the Partnership™ for Drug-Free Kids Drug Guide.
  • Reassure your preteen that the physical and hormonal changes she’s going through are normal.
    Middle school is a time of great change for children and your child may be overwhelmed by her changing moods and body. You can help to explain what’s happening and help her relax in knowing that it’s a normal part of growing up.20 And remember to talk about healthy choices when it comes to food, while avoiding any judgments on your child’s—or your own—weight or body shape and size. Studies show that children—especially girls—are more likely to be concerned with dieting if their mothers diet or are overly concerned about their own or their children’s weight.21
  • Talk to your child about suicide.
    For tips on how to talk with your child about depression and suicide, visit the Vermont Department of Mental Health or the Vermont Suicide Prevention Center.
  • Keep talking to other parents.
    Make sure your child knows that parents talk to each other, and you’re aware of what’s going on amongst kids in school. 22

  • Continue with regular conversations, praise, and support.
    Your teen is never too old to need your support in building his confidence. Remember to praise your child for doing well instead of just criticizing what you feel he is doing wrong.23 And tell your teen how much you appreciate him being a good role model for younger kids.24
  • Tap into your teen’s communication methods.
    Ask your teen to friend you on social-media sites so you can open up another line of communication.25 And make use of texting to reach out to your teen wherever she is. You can text about something specific, or just send a random message to let your child know you are thinking about her. Here are some examples that may start a conversation or just brighten your child’s day:

    • Do U want to get together for pizza and talk?
    • U stressed about school? We can talk about it.
    • Lemme know how things go 2day.
    • Hope ur having a gr8 day!
    • Just thinking about U.
    • I’m here if U ever need to talk.

    Check with your mobile provider and phone company to learn how to send text messages and what kinds of fees may apply.26

  • Help your teen feel normal.
    Remind him that not every Vermont high-school student drinks or uses drugs. It’s not weird for a student not to participate in these activities.27
  • Talk about the future.
    Is your teen looking forward to college or an aspiring career? Talk about how drugs and alcohol could ruin her chances of achieving her goals.28
  • Offer direct and detailed facts about drugs, alcohol, and other issues.
    You might have held back in the younger years, but now is the time to help drive home the reality. The Partnership™ for Drug-Free Kids suggests these topics:

    1. Experimenting even one time with drugs can cause serious, permanent harm
    2. Using alcohol or drugs can put teens in risky and dangerous situations
    3. Anyone can become an addict
    4. Combining drugs can be deadly29
  • Talk about the impact of drugs and alcohol.
    Whether it’s discussing the news or the experiences of people you know, use stories of things like driver-impaired crashes, overdoses, or problems in communities overrun by drugs to illustrate the real-life impact of substance abuse.30
  • Keep talking to your teen about suicide.
    For tips on how to talk with your child about depression and suicide, visit the Vermont Department of Mental Health or the Vermont Suicide Prevention Center.
  • Encourage your teen to learn healthy stress management techniques—so she won’t feel as much of a need to turn to drugs or alcohol to relax.
    These can include exercising, healthy eating, avoiding excess caffeine, building healthy friendships, learning relaxation techniques, or just taking time to relax with activities like drawing, writing, or listening to music.31
  • Be a positive role model:
    • If you drink, be aware of why and how often you drink in front of your child. Show positive ways to handle stress. Don’t make casual comments about “needing a drink to relax” after a difficult day. Don’t drink and drive.
    • Provide non-alcoholic drinks at your adult parties. Don’t pressure others to use alcohol if they don’t drink.
    • Don’t have your children serve drinks in your home, and don’t ask them to get you a beer from the fridge.
    • If you don’t use alcohol, explain to your children why you have made that choice.
    • If you have a family history of drug or alcohol problems, talk about it with your child in the same way you would any other chronic disease, like heart disease or cancer. The key is to match the amount of information with the context of your child’s questions and your child’s maturity level. It’s best to avoid recounting your own youthful experimentation because your child may get the wrong idea that it’s harmless.32
  • For more information on how to talk to your child about the dangers of alcohol, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
  • Reinforce your rules and expectations.
    Set clear rules and lay out the consequences if your child is caught drinking, intoxicated, or high.33
  • Keep the door open.
    Remind your teen that she can always talk to you—even if she makes a mistake and feels scared.34
  • Stay calm.
    If you do catch your teen with alcohol or drugs, try to be more serious than furious. Explain why you’re upset and the risks and consequences involved. Ask her about the incident and what happened.35

 

Talking to your child is crucial during the turbulent preteen and teen years. But it must go hand-in-hand with monitoring in order to be effective in helping your teen avoid alcohol and drugs and intervening early when problems arise.

*Excerpts from “Keeping Your Kids Drug-Free” by the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, Office of National Drug Control Policy.