The average age that kids begin using drugs and/or alcohol in the United States is 12 years old. In order to be preventative, it’s important to start talking with your kids before the age of 12. You may be surprised by what a 10, 9, or even 8-year-old has already heard about drugs and alcohol at school, from their peers, on social media, or from pop culture. It’s possible to lay the foundation even earlier by having conversations with very young children about making healthy choices and taking care of their bodies. You can build on that foundation as they get older, being more direct about drugs and alcohol in age-appropriate ways.
Ask your kids what they’ve already heard or seen about drugs and alcohol. Ask them what they already know. Inquire about what they’ve heard mentioned at school or on social media.
Let them speak without interrupting or overreacting. You may hear something that surprises you, but it’s important to maintain your composure or you risk your child feeling uncomfortable opening up to you. Acknowledge them for their honesty.
Seize The Moment
Take advantage of any opportunity to talk with your kids. Regular family dinners are a great way to have more in-depth conversations, but sometimes your opportunity may come during a car ride. If there has been a local or national incident involving drugs or alcohol (a celebrity overdose, a student arrested at school for drugs, etc.), that’s an organic window for you to begin a conversation by asking your kids their thoughts on the incident.
Be direct with your kids regarding your stance on alcohol and drugs. Let them know the rules as well as the consequences for breaking those rules. As parents we sometimes assume our kids know our thoughts and feelings on certain things, but it’s better to take the time to be clear with them and to offer to answer any questions they might have about our stance.
Do Your Research
Read studies, research, and articles on a substance before you talk with your kids about it. Understand the confirmed dangers, especially for kids, so you can emphasize why it’s important that they not use. A brief internet search can provide you with a wealth of information backed up by science and medicine. If they ask you a question you don’t know the answer to, offer to look it up with them.
Practice Saying No
Don’t let your kids wait until they’re offered drugs or alcohol to decide how they’re going to say no. Without preparation, practice, and forethought, they’re more likely to give in to temptation or peer pressure. Help them figure out a reason for saying no that feels genuine to them. The reason will vary from one person to the next. Some kids say no because they don’t want to affect their sports performance or risk getting kicked off a team. Other kids mention that they don’t want to get in trouble with their parents, or cite the fact that their parents implement home drug testing. Whatever the reason is, have your kid practice using the words with you so that the phrases feel comfortable to them. Refine and adjust the reason and phrasing as needed.
Offer a Way Out
Agree on a code word or phrase that your kids can text you to indicate that they need to be picked up and removed from a potentially dangerous situation. This will allow them a way out of a situation such as a party where drug use is occurring or will keep them from getting in a vehicle with someone behind the wheel who is under the influence. When you receive the code word or phrase, call their phone to find out where they are so you can pick them up. In order to save face with peers they can use the excuse that there has been a family emergency or that you need to come get them for another reason.