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Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Being Drug-Free: What Works?

October 23-31 marks Red Ribbon Week. Across the nation, schools will participate the Red Ribbon campaign, which serves to educate youth and encourage participation in drug prevention activities. The National Red Ribbon Week theme this year is: Your Future Is Key, So Stay Drug Free™.

Did you know that studies show that parents who talk to their kids regularly about drugs, have children that are 42% less likely to abuse substances? However, only a quarter of teens report actually having these conversations. Why? It may be that talking with children about being drug- and alcohol-free can feel awkward; however, it doesn’t have to be this way. Plan ahead, practice often, and follow these straightforward tips.

  1. Make the discussion about tobacco, drugs, and alcohol ongoing and informal. The days of a single, heavy-hitting conversation are over. Kids of all ages are bombarded with messages about alcohol and drugs in the hallways and on their screens. From an early age, communicate with your children about drugs and alcohol regularly, openly, and in casual settings over time.
  2. Inquire gently, and broadly. Drugs and alcohol relate to sensitive aspects of life like identity, social bonds, and independence. Talking about these things can make your child feel vulnerable. Begin with curiosity. Ask what they are seeing, hearing, and experiencing related to drugs or alcohol. Being open, inquisitive, and comfortable makes it okay for your child to do the same.
  3. Remember, it’s never “too early” to talk to your kids about being drug-free. Kids are exposed to alcohol and drugs in social environments and the media from a very young age. How you approach the conversation should reflect your child’s age. Here are some guidelines:
    • Ages 3-5: Point out how good healthy habits can make them feel, but also bring their attention to the dangers that are in their environment, like household cleaners. Use this example to explain that things that are dangerous are not always labeled – and they should never accept or ingest anything from someone who is not a trusted adult.
    • Ages 5-8: Balancing the influence of peers and media by letting them know how you feel about drugs and alcohol. Ask your child about what they see in the media. What do the messages seem to say about drugs? Are they glamorized, or are consequences shown?
    • Ages 8 and Up:  As your child gets more independent, reiterate your rules around drugs and be clear on consequences for breaking them. Practice saying “No” using examples of different scenarios. Remind them that they shouldn’t continue friendships with kids who offer them drugs. Feeling pressured by social situations can stress your adolescent. Remind them to talk to you about difficult feelings. Build your child’s self-esteem, creativity, and independence by praising them often, and encourage them to do activities that that build their talents, skills, and community involvement.
  4. Make sure your child knows you are just a phone call away. At some point, they will be exposed to or participate in drinking or drug use. Make sure they know: safety is more important than anything else. Remind them that under no circumstances should they ever drive or get in the car with someone under the influence. Ask them to call you for a ride at any time, with no questions asked at the time. Ask a close aunt, uncle, or family friend to extend this offer as well, and increase your child’s network of safe support.

At Horizon Health Services we know that substance abuse disorders affect the entire family. We strive to provide help, hope, support, and resources to families in our community impacted by addiction. Please give us a call today, we can help. (716) 813-1800