Children today are more exposed to drugs, alcohol and other bad habits than ever since the media tends to portray this behavior as cool, fun, and even normal. In fact, studies show that 78% of US teenagers have tried alcohol, and over 42% have used illicit drugs. While these numbers are alarming, there are ways in which you can prevent your children from becoming part of these statistics. Just like you protect your children from illnesses, with vaccines, vitamins or other methods, you can also protect them against drug use, by talking openly to them and giving them the right information before they’re in a dangerous situation.
Making sure your children trust you enough to have conversations with you about delicate topics such as this one is something you should work on from an early age, since, when they don’t feel comfortable turning to their parents to ask them questions, chances are they might seek information somewhere else, where their sources might be unreliable.
Having the “drug talk” with your children is essential, but you need to make sure to approach them with this topic in the right way and according to their age. If you’re not sure on how to start the conversation or what should you tell your children about drugs, here are 3 tips that might help you have a successful and productive conversation.
1. Educate Yourself
Educating yourself about different substances before speaking to your child will make things easier. You can’t tell them drugs are dangerous if you don’t know why. The internet has a ton of resources on marijuana information, cocaine information, and basic information about any type of drugs. By knowing what are the differences between each substance, which ones are the most common, what shape they come in, and what their effects and risks are, you’ve equipped in case your children have any questions about these substances.
2. Keep It Age Appropriate
After preparing yourself to talk to your child, the first consideration to take into account is their age, since how you approach them, speak to them and the terms you’ll use will vary depending on how old they are.
Preschool To Age 7
When they are this young it’s important to start teaching them about self-care, good nutrition, proper hygiene and developing a healthy lifestyle. This can lead to the topic of drugs, alcohol and other behaviors that might be bad for them. Take advantage of moments in which the subject can come up naturally, for example, if a TV or movie character is shown drinking alcohol or smoking, talk to your kid about what these substances are and what they do to a person’s body. Make sure you use terms that your kid can understand and be open to answering any questions they might have.
Ages 8 To 12
As kids grow older they are more easily influenced by their peers and what they see in the media. This is a crucial age for you to talk to them about touchy subjects since as they get older they tend to be less inclined to share their thoughts and feelings, and establishing a dialogue now can help you keep the door open to future conversations. It is also the age where they will acquire the foundations to make any decision when they become teenagers.
At this age, you can start the conversation by asking them what they think about drugs and other substances, and be telling them how you feel about them in return. At this point they are probably not very concerned about their future long-term, so make sure you keep focus on how drugs could affect their lives right now and in the near future. You should also help them the separate reality from fantasy, tell them about how, no matter how cool and harmless it looks on TV, doing cocaine or drinking until you pass out can actually be deadly in real life. Use real-life examples of people who have had troubles with substance abuse.
Ages 13 And Up
It’s no secret adolescence can be the hardest time to communicate with your children. They’re experiencing changes in their minds and bodies and tend to distance themselves from their parents. This is why it’s important to maintain a relationship where they don’t feel judged, where they can trust you and talk to you openly. At this age chances are they already know about drugs and alcohol and probably have friends who have tried them, so it’s important you give them facts about these substances they may not have heard from their peers. Be straightforward with the rules and expectations you set regarding substance use and make sure you communicate that your main concern is for their well-being. Listen to them, respect their opinion and always keep the conversation calm even if you disagree on some aspects.
3. Teach Through Example
You need to evaluate your own behaviors before talking to your child about what they should avoid. If you talk to your kids about the dangers of drinking or smoking but then they see you doing these things it can be confusing to them and probably end up thinking that if you do it it means it’s okay for them to do it too. Always try to be a good role model, your actions speak louder than your words.
Talking to your children about drugs doesn’t have to be difficult or uncomfortable. The key is in being honest, patient and non-judgemental. Encourage them to ask questions and make sure you’re prepared to answer them, approach your kids differently depending on their age in order for the talk to be more effective, and always try to set the best example. By giving them the facts and establishing the open dialogue with them, you can help them make the best decisions for themselves.
What do you think is the best way to talk to your children about drugs? If you have an experience you’d like to share, please leave a comment below.