parents talking to kids about drugs and alcohol

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As a parent, you want to help your child grow up to be safe, happy, and healthy. This includes protecting them from addiction and the dangers of substance use and misuse. While it’s never too early to start teaching your child the skills they need to make positive life choices and to stay away from drugs and alcohol, you’ll want to approach the conversation differently depending on their age.

To help you keep your child healthy and safe, here’s how to talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol through every stage of development.

Why talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol is important

Talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol is important for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, it helps to educate them about the dangers and risks associated with substance abuse. This knowledge can help them make informed decisions and avoid potentially harmful situations.

Discussing drugs and alcohol with your kids can help to establish an open and honest line of communication between parents and children. This can make it easier for kids to come to their parents for advice and support if they ever do find themselves in a situation involving drugs or alcohol.

Talking about these topics can also help to dispel myths and stereotypes surrounding substance abuse, and help children to understand the real-world consequences of their actions.

By talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol, you can help them develop critical thinking skills and the ability to make their own decisions, rather than simply relying on peer pressure or societal norms. All of these reasons demonstrate why it is crucial for parents to have open and honest conversations with their kids about drugs and alcohol.

 2-4 years old

When talking to 2- to 4-year-olds about drugs and alcohol, it’s important to keep the conversation simple and age-appropriate. Start by explaining that some things are “medicine” and are good for you, while other things can be dangerous and are not for kids. Avoid scare tactics and emphasize the importance of making healthy choices.

Parents can help their toddlers and preschool-aged children understand how to take care of their bodies and make healthy choices:

1. Talk about the importance of taking care of our bodies, including exercising, eating well, and getting enough sleep. Be sure to model these behaviors as well.

2. Assist your child in steering clear of hazardous substances present in their surroundings, like cleaning agents and any medication not specifically prescribed for their use.

3. Encourage your child to brainstorm solutions for problems, while offering assistance as necessary. Doing so can enhance their self-assurance and aptitude to navigate through challenging or vexing circumstances.

 5-8 years old

When talking to 5 to 8-year-olds about drugs and alcohol, use simple language and be honest about the potential dangers. Focus on the negative consequences of drug and alcohol use, such as how they can harm the body and mind. Emphasize the importance of making smart choices and seeking help if needed.

In the early elementary years, parents can discuss substance use more directly at an age-appropriate level, while also continuing to foster healthy habit-building:

4. Establish clear rules and expectations around substances, especially if you or other adults in the home use drugs, smoke, or drink regularly. Explain that substances are especially dangerous for developing brains and bodies and that you don’t need cigarettes or alcohol to relax or have fun.

5. Talk to your child about substances, including the differences between medicinal use versus substance misuse, as well as what they see in the media. Keep discussions to the present and concrete.

 9-12 years old

When talking to 9- to 12-year-olds about drugs and alcohol, provide accurate information about the risks and effects of substance use. Discuss the pressures they may face and the importance of making good decisions. Encourage open communication and be available to answer any questions or concerns they may have.

Preteens tend to crave more independence from their families, while also holding their peers’ opinions in high esteem. Parents of preteens can help them understand how to avoid substance use and stay healthy:

6. Establish clear rules and consequences, and make sure they are enforced. Children growing up in households with well-defined limits are less inclined to indulge in substance use.

7. Praise your child frequently. As this age often brings about feelings of insecurity and pressure, positive comments about your child’s personality and efforts can help them feel more self-assured.

8. Check in with your child’s friends and their parents to discover if they hold the same beliefs as your family regarding substance use.

 13-18 years old

When talking to 13- to 18-year-olds about drugs and alcohol, have an open and honest conversation about the risks and consequences of substance use. Encourage them to think critically about peer pressure and to make their own decisions. Discuss strategies for staying safe and getting help if needed, and emphasize your trust in their ability to make responsible choices.

The teen years are a crucial period for children and parents alike, especially as substance use becomes more prevalent. In addition to the above tips for preteens, keep in mind these additional prevention tips for teenagers:

9. Speak openly with your child about substance use, and draw from experiences in the real world. Listen to their thoughts and feelings on the matter, and answer any questions they have. However, it is crucial to convey your disapproval of underage substance use unequivocally.

10. Take interest in your child’s life, and encourage them to come to you if they ever need to talk. This builds trust and opens lines of communication for productive conversation.

 19-25 years old

When talking to 19- to 25-year-olds about drugs and alcohol, acknowledge their autonomy and emphasize personal responsibility. Discuss the risks associated with substance use and encourage open communication about any concerns or struggles they may be facing. Provide information on resources for support and encourage them to seek help if needed.

Though young adults are preparing for the “real world,” they still benefit from parental guidance during this period of transition. In addition to the above tips for teens, here’s how you can keep your college-age child safe and healthy:

11. If your child is attending college, be aware of the various drugs that can circulate on campus. While alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine are most commonly found, students may also be misusing prescription drugs.

12. Keep an eye on your child’s mental health. Make sure they (and you) are aware of mental health resources on campus or in the community and reassure them that you’re there to support them.

Best practices for talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol at any age

Having an open and honest conversation with your child about drugs and alcohol is an important step in helping them make informed decisions as they grow up. However, the approach you take may vary depending on your child’s age. 

For young children (ages 5-10), keep the conversation age-appropriate and simple. Use clear language to explain the dangers of drugs and alcohol and how they can harm the body. Emphasize the importance of following rules and making healthy choices.

For preteens (ages 11-12), you can start to have more in-depth conversations about the risks associated with drug and alcohol use. Be open and honest about your own experiences and values, and encourage your child to ask questions and express their thoughts and feelings.

For teenagers (ages 13-18), it’s important to acknowledge the peer pressure and social influences that can lead to experimentation with drugs and alcohol. Continue to have open and honest conversations, and provide your child with factual information about the risks and consequences of drug and alcohol use. Encourage them to make healthy choices and establish a plan for handling peer pressure.

Regardless of your child’s age, it’s important to establish clear rules and consequences for drug and alcohol use and to be consistent in enforcing them. Above all, maintain open communication and let your child know you are there to support and guide them.

Parentally Speaking: Interested in learning more about this topic? Check out our other blogs to learn more about parenting today.

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