Talking to Kids About Drugs and Alcohol

Some parents are afraid that if they talk to their kids about drugs and alcohol that it will backfire. They are especially worried that if they give the talk and then have a glass of wine with dinner, they will look hypocritical. But the old saying goes, if you don’t talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol, someone else will. If you want to control the narrative, then you have to be the one doing all of the talking. Here are some tips to help you get the conversation started and to keep it going through all the stages of your child’s life.

Start Early

There is no such thing as starting too early when it comes to helping your children understand the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

  • From preschool to about age 7 you can use teachable, visual moments to get your message across. Keep the language simple and direct, and be prepared to answer questions.
  • Remember that at this age they will notice everything, so if you point out someone drinking alcohol and say that it is “dangerous” or “bad” and then drink a glass of wine, the child may become frightened. Always use general terms and explain the difference between things that are okay or helpful and things that are not.
  • Be consistent. Don’t let the message change from day to day, or you will confuse your child.
  • Use age-appropriate language. Your dialogue will change as the child gets older and can understand more.
  • When your child is at age 9 or older, you will need to introduce facts and statistics into the conversation. There are plenty of good websites that will give you all of the numbers that you need.

Be Ready to Answer Questions (Even the Tough Ones)

Your child may come to you with questions. Will you be ready with the answers?

  • If your child comes to you with “what if” questions, it is best to listen and answer the questions honestly without looking for the reasons behind the questions.
  • If you suspect your child is using drugs and alcohol, you must walk a delicate line between finding out the truth and keeping the lines of communication open.
  • If you start acting suspicious or outright asking questions, then your child may no longer come to you when they have a question or when they need help.

If There Is a Problem

Be the kind of parent that your child can come to with any problem. Let them know that there are rules and standards for behaviors as well as consequences but that their health and safety will always be your top priority.

  • When your child enters their teen years make sure they know what to do if they are at a party and need a ride home because their driver is drinking. Make it a standing policy that you will always come and get them in that situation, even if they were the driver. You can discuss the behavior later—at that moment, just be glad that they made that call, so no lectures.
  • Always pay attention to your teen so that you are aware of changes in habits or appearance that might indicate a drug problem—and continue the conversation always.