As kids get older—although not as old as you might think—alcohol and drugs start to enter their worlds. As parents, you can shape their opinions, attitudes and usage of these substances. In fact, parents have far more influence than you may think!
Research has shown that kids who talk with their parents about the dangers of alcohol and drug use are 50% less likely to use these substances than those who don’t have such conversations. Think of it as inoculating, or immunizing them against drug use by giving them the facts before they’re in a risky situation.
When and how should you start talking to your kids about alcohol and drugs?
Preschool to Age 7
You may think it’s ridiculous to start discussions this young. But this is where you lay the groundwork. If you see people smoking, whether in real life or on TV or in a magazine, you can talk about what smoking is and how harmful it is to your body. Your child may be hearing about drugs through school, and you can talk about the difference between the drugs you take because the doctor tells you to, and the kind that can hurt you.
Ages 8 to 12
By the time your children are tweens, they’ll know a lot about drugs, whether from school, their peers or the media. Start asking them what they think about drugs. If you ask in a nonjudgmental, open-ended way, you’ll probably get an honest response. If you don’t, or if your child acts evasive or defensive, be on the lookout for signs of alcohol or drug abuse.
Ages 13 to 17
By the time your kids are teenagers, they’re likely to know other kids who use alcohol or drugs—and to have friends who drive. One of the most important topics to cover with your kids at this age is the danger of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Talk about the legal issues, such as jail time and fines, and stress the possibility that they or someone else might be killed or seriously injured.
You may want to establish a written or verbal contract on the rules about going out with friends who drive or about using the car. You can also promise your kids that you’ll pick them up at any time, even the middle of the night, with no questions asked if they call you when the person responsible for driving has been drinking or using drugs.
No parent, child, or family is immune to the effects of drugs. Even “good” kids can end up in trouble. Talk to your kids—it’s never too early to start!
And if you ever have any questions or concerns about your child, call Horizon Health Services at 716.831.1800 and talk to one of our trained professionals. The staff at our family and adolescent treatment centers in East Amherst and in Tonawanda are here to help you and your family.