A Parent’s Guide to Talking to Teens About Drugs and Alcohol

Angela Lambert

Drug and alcohol use is an important topic that parents must address with their children. Whether or not a parent feels that his or her child is susceptible to the lure of drugs, it is an essential conversation that must take place. Even the best-behaved children will most likely encounter drugs and be faced with the decision of turning them down or accepting them. Because of the numerous ill-effects associated with drugs, parents must communicate with their children in an effective manner. The importance of this discussion requires that parents understand how to go about it so that they have the best chance of helping their kids avoid using drugs and alcohol.

Starting the Conservation

Parents and legal guardians of children should begin by discussing the negatives of drugs with their kids as early as possible; children as young as two years old can begin associating drug use with being bad. The key to starting conversations with one’s child is to approach the discussion in a way that is appropriate for the child’s age. For younger children, use examples on television as a way of expressing that alcohol or drug use are bad.

Explaining the Negative Effects of Drugs & Alcohol

When talking to kids about drugs, honesty is the best policy. Parents shouldn’t try to sugar-coat the negative effects that they have. Because young minds are still developing, extreme drug usage has the ability to alter or damage it in a way that affects the child’s thinking and learning abilities. As a result, the child’s education and ability to perform activities such as sports may suffer, and his or her future can be negatively impacted. While taking drugs or drinking, there are also other more immediate consequences that can negatively affect teens for the rest of their lives as well. Alcohol and/or the use of drugs can result in sexual activity that could end in pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. For kids who are driving it can also cause an accident which results in injury or death to themselves, their friends, or to others.

Saying No to Peer Pressure

When talking to kids, parents must not forget to consider the power of peer pressure and include it as a topic of discussion. Peer pressure can be a very powerful motivator for certain kids who may feel the desire to fit into a certain group of his or her peers. If this group of children or teens uses drugs or alcohol, they may encourage one’s child to do the same, and scorn or reject him or her if they do not. Acceptance, particularly for teens, is very important and peer pressure can be one of the greatest hurdles that a parent faces when fighting to prevent their child from doing drugs. Kids may also feel a form of peer pressure from things such as television and magazines that push a certain lifestyle as being cool, exciting and fun. Parents should talk with their kids and help them to say no to peer pressure. This is often easier said than done. Encourage children to stick with what they know to be right and wrong and to acknowledge that what their peers are doing makes them feel uncomfortable. Help them find different ways of saying “no” to the people who are trying to persuade them into drinking or using drugs, even if that means using their parents as an excuse. Parents will also want to help them realize that anyone who requires them to do something that they are uncomfortable with is not a friend or someone who they should want to be friends with. Encourage him or her to seek out friends who share the same values, beliefs and interests. Actively assist children in raising their self-esteem by praising their accomplishments and encouraging them to do more of the things that they enjoy and/or excel at.

Be Realistic

Parents must understand that despite their efforts there is still the possibility that their child will try alcohol or drugs at a party, the prom, or even at a friend’s house. Although the goal of the conversation is to encourage teens to not use drugs or drink, parents also want to ensure that their kids are safe at all times. Although they should not waver in their stance of no drug or alcohol use, they should also be realistic. Kids should understand that if they do drink or experiment with a drug they should under no circumstances drive or get in the car with someone who has also used drugs. Instead, encourage them to call for a ride with no questions asked at the time that he or she is picked up. Parents will want to assure their teens that they will not be punished for making the call and shouldn’t be scared to do so. They should be made to understand that in those situations, their safety is of the utmost importance.

Keeping Lines of Communication Open

The initial conversation between parents and their kids shouldn’t be the only conversation that they have on the topic. Parents will want to stay involved in their kid’s life without seeming overly intrusive. Casual questions should be asked over shared dinners or while traveling together as a family. Kids should be encouraged to come to their parents if they have any worries or questions. Parents will want their kids to know that they are always available to listen and that they will handle any future situations fairly and calmly. This will encourage kids to be more open and honest without fear of repercussions.

Additional Tips for Parents

Parents want their children to trust them enough to come to them if they are intoxicated, but they will also want to establish clear rules. Although they recognize that a child may slip and try alcohol or drugs, they do not want to give the impression that they approve of or find it acceptable. Parents and their teens should sit down and draft out rules regarding drug use and what the consequences are if they should use them. Involving kids in this step will make them feel included and it will add another level of personal responsibility. While talking, parents will want to learn what activities their kids are interested in and discuss signing them up for them. Teens who are busy doing activities that they enjoy will also be less inclined to drink or experiment with drugs.

In addition to talking with teens there are several additional ways that parents can help keep them drug and alcohol free. Spending quality time together on shopping trips and family outings is one way to do this. Another is to get to know their kid’s friends, their friend’s parents, and their stand on drug and alcohol use. To prevent drinking at parties, offer to host the parties instead; this way parents can be confident that no alcohol is being served and can keep a watchful eye out for drug use.

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