Research suggests that one of the most important factors in healthy child development is a strong, open relationship with a parent or caregiver. Believe it or not, parents and caregivers are the most powerful influence in a child’s life and can make a huge impact when it comes to youth substance use prevention.
Parents and caregivers need to start talking to their children about alcohol and other drugs before they are exposed to them—typically in the early preteen years. But before you get talking, it is important to get prepared. Before beginning the conversation with your child, consider: What are your goals or what you like your child to walk away with?
If you’re overwhelmed by the idea of talking to your child about alcohol or other drugs, start with a game plan. Keep reading for a list of 5 helpful goals for when you talk to your child.
1. Show you disapprove of underage drinking and other drug misuse.
Studies have shown that over 80 percent of young people ages 10–18 say their parents are the leading influence on their decision whether to drink. It is important to send a clear and strong message that you disapprove of underage drinking and misuse of other drugs.
It is recommended that parents begin talking to their children about alcohol at 9 years of age. Need some ideas for how to start this conversation with your child? Check out Start Talking Now for some conversation starters.
2. Show you care about your child’s health, wellness, and success.
Young people are more likely to listen and internalize your message when they know you’re on their side. Reinforce why you don’t want your child to drink or use other drugs—because you want your child to be happy and safe. The conversation will go a lot better if you’re open and you show concern.
Children are also less likely to drink or use marijuana or other drugs when their parents or caregivers are involved in their lives and when they feel a close connection. Some ways to increase or improve family bonding include:
- Giving your kids at least 15 minutes of one-on-one time every day
- Doing fun things together
- Giving positive feedback about the healthy choices your child makes
- Eating as a family five times per week
3. Show you’re a good source of information about alcohol and other drugs.
You want your child to make informed decisions about alcohol and other drugs with reliable information about their dangers. So where are they getting their information?
You wouldn’t want your child to learn about alcohol and other drugs from potentially unreliable sources—from friends or social media. So, establish yourself as a trustworthy source of information!
After all, kids who learn a lot about the risks of alcohol and other drugs at home are less likely to use. In Washington, 85.3% of 10th graders who report having clear family rules about alcohol and drugs don’t drink (Healthy Youth Survey, 2018).
So, before you begin the conversation, make sure you have the facts! To get started, visit Start Talking Now.
4. Show you’re paying attention and you’ll discourage risky behaviors.
Show that you’re aware of what your child is up to, as young people are more likely to drink or use other drugs if they think no one will notice or that there will be no repercussions. If possible, try to do this in a subtle way, without prying.
The best way to monitor your child’d behavior and stay engaged in their daily life is by having a conversation. Try asking some of these questions when they spend time with their friends:
- Where are you going?
- What will you be doing?
- Who will be with you?
- When will you be home?
- Will there be alcohol, marijuana or other drugs?
5. Build your child’s skills and strategies for avoiding underage drinking and drug use.
Even if you don’t think your child wants to drink or try other drugs, peer pressure is a powerful thing. Having a plan to avoid alcohol and drug use can help children make better choices. Talk with your child about what they would do if faced with a decision about alcohol and drugs.
You can help your child practice how to say “no” by visiting Start Talking Now.
Making sure that your child knows that they can come to you when they need you is also critical. Plan ahead—talk to your child about what they should do if they find themselves in a dangerous situation. Maybe it’s texting a code word for a no-questions-asked pick up.
Thankfully, you don’t need to accomplish all of the goals listed above in one conversation. It is important to chat about these topics frequently and beginning at a young age. In the end, the most important goal is to make sure that your child knows that they can come to you when they have questions or when they need help.
Want to get involved in teen substance use prevention initiatives in your community? Find out more about our local prevention coalitions:
Burlington Healthy Community Coalition – https://www.facebook.com/Burlington-Healthy-Community-Coalition-105142296193
Coalition Coordinator – Liz Wilhelm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Concrete Resource Coalition – https://www.facebook.com/concreteresourcecoalition
Coalition Coordinator – Marlena White (email@example.com)