National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week is March 21 – March 27, so we thought it was the perfect opportunity to provide some tips for talking to kids about alcohol and drugs. Open discussions about topics like substance use should begin when children are young. Using these guidelines can help you come up with a plan to talk to your kids about smoking, drinking, and drug use at any age.
1. Keep it Age-Appropriate
You should start talking to your children about substance abuse early in their lives. However, how you talk to them matters. When you start to talk about drugs and alcohol with your kids, you want to make sure you’re relating to them in a way they understand. Preschoolers don’t respond to the same logic as older kids and vice versa. The way the brain develops as children grow changes the way they process things. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids has a great guide on age-appropriate ways to talk to kids about substance use.
2. Be Clear About Rules and Reasons
Your kids should have no doubts about where you stand on substance use. Make a definitive rule about not smoking, drinking, or using drugs. Then give them the reasons why it’s so important to follow that rule. Drugs are dangerous both physically and mentally. You want them to live their best lives because you love them so much. Underage drinking and tobacco use are illegal and punishable. Drug use is also against the law and can get them into legal trouble that may affect the rest of their lives.
3. Lay Down the Law
Just as you need to be clear about your stance on substance use, kids need to know exactly what consequences they’ll face when they break the rules. What punishments will they face if they smoke, drink, or use drugs? Be consistent in these punishments so there’s no doubt as to what will happen. It also won’t hurt to mention the legal consequences again.
4. Talk About Immediate Consequences (Not Just Punishment)
Kids are less likely than adults to take long term consequences into account when making the decision to drink or do drugs. They don’t really start thinking about the lasting impact of their decisions until they are older teens or young adults. So, it’s a good idea to talk about the immediate consequences of substance abuse with children and teens.
Instead of relying on the facts about smoking or drinking increasing their risk of certain diseases, mix in warnings about things they care about. Examples include:
- Cigarette smoking can affect their appearance, hygiene, and attractiveness to their peers (yellow teeth, bad skin, bad breath, coughing, constant cigarette smell). Other teens may not want to be around smokers for these reasons.
- Drunk driving causes injury and death, but they might be swayed by the fact that they could get their license taken away for a long time, if not permanently.
- Substance abuse of all types can affect their athletic performance.
5. Mention How Expensive a Substance Habit Is
When worrying about your child drinking or doing drugs, money might not be at the top of your list of concerns. However, money is often a huge influencer when it comes to teens and young adults. Let them know how expensive substance abuse can be. According to smokefree.gov, a pack-a-day smoker in the US spends an average of $2,292 on cigarettes every year. Alcohol and illegal drugs can add up even more. They might have something else they want to spend their money on.
6. Explain Addiction
Make sure your child understands addiction. Emphasize that some things are very difficult to quit using after they start the habit. Some people are not able to stop at all, which leads to tragedy. Even if someone successfully stops using an addictive substance, there may be permanent damage to their brain or body from long term use. Plus, relapse is all too common.
7. Emphasize Responsibility in Young Adults
It’s inevitable that your child will grow up and reach the legal age to use tobacco and alcohol. When this happens, you still need to stick to your guns about your rules and expectations. Put your foot down about smoking even after kids turn 18. It may seem cliche, but as long as they live with you, you make the rules. If your child is going to college, you’ll have less control, but you’ll still have influence.
Remind them about the dangers of substance abuse, smoking, and drinking when appropriate. Underage drinking at college may seem like the norm, but let them know that it can have serious legal consequences that may impact the rest of their lives. And when they do turn 21, use this guide from the AAP to talk to them about drinking responsibly in college.
8. Don’t Stop Talking
When it comes to the health and safety of your family, certain things should be an ongoing discussion. Talking to kids about drugs and alcohol is not a one-and-done conversation. You have to keep talking to them about it. It doesn’t have to be a confrontational thing or even a lecture. Check-in with them frequently and make sure they still understand the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Make sure they stay clear about yo ur expectations and the consequences of breaking the rules.
Keep having the conversation over and over. Even if they seem exasperated, don’t take that as a sign that they’ve heard enough. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a survey found that only one in four teens feel like they are getting enough parental guidance. Do your part to improve that statistic.
At HealthPark Pediatrics, we know how important having open conversations with your children is when it comes to their health. We combine the most current comprehensive medical care with compassion, open communication, and understanding. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s health and development, call us at (919) 896-7066 to make an appointment.