The big talk
In the United States, alcohol kills more teenagers than all other drugs combined, and teens who drink are 7.5 times more likely to use illegal drugs and 50 times more likely to use cocaine than young people who never drink.1 It’s easy to think, “That’s not my kid – my kid would never…” but the hard truth is, your child may be exposed to alcohol and drugs when and where you least expect it. That’s why it’s critical to have tough conversations early and often that help your teens understand how dangerous substance abuse is so they can safely navigate their way through the minefields of peer pressure and temptation.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is talk to your children early and often about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, and how even just “experimenting” can lead you down a very dark path. Be prepared to hear things that may shock or upset you, and make sure to let your child know they can always come to you with questions or concerns no matter what. Stay calm and be a trusted confidant.
- Know what you’re talking about. You need to be aware of what’s out there and available to kids on the streets, in schools – and in even in your own medicine cabinet. Click here for a thorough list of commonly used illicit and prescription drugs.
- Warn them about peer pressure. It can come from even the most trusted friend, so remind your child that resisting peer pressure when they know what they’re being asked to do is wrong may actually be the coolest thing they can do. It shows maturity, strength of character, and wisdom – all qualities that others will admire, whether they admit it or not. Tell your child that taking a stand and saying no may also save other friends from going down a dangerous path. Help them come up with ways to say no, and remind them that you are always there if they need help saying no and will pick them up and remove them from the situation if necessary.
- Know their friends. Invite them over, talk to them, and get a feel for who they are. If you notice your child’s behavior negatively changing after exposure to a new set of friends, try to encourage them to hang out with friends you see as a more positive influence.
- Be a good role model. Children learn as much from what you do as what you say. Recognize that your children are always watching you, and model the kind of behavior you hope to see in them. Drink responsibly and either quit smoking or do it when and where they can’t see you.
Despite your best efforts, it’s still possible that your teen may experiment with drugs and alcohol. Know the warning signs associated with alcohol abuse and each kind of drug so you can intervene and get help for your child as soon as possible.
No matter how old your child is, just keep those lines of communication open and continue to make your home a safe place where, with your help, your child can process the world around him in a positive and healthy way.
For more advice on how to talk to your children and teens about drugs and alcohol, visit DrugFree.org.
414095I CAN/US (09/16)