Perhaps one of the most dreaded conversations for parents is how to explain drugs to a child. No caring and responsible adult wants to hear kids and drugs in the same sentence. Bringing up the subject makes parents uneasy because they may not feel prepared; however, according to experts, the earlier parents talk with their children about the consequences of using drugs, the less likely children are to experiment with them. The key is understanding how to talk to your kids about drugs. Discussing drugs in an empathetic, supportive, and nonjudgmental way is vital.
Talking to Kids About Drugs Can Be Sensitive
The conversation can get a little testy when discussing drugs with adolescents and teens. Children in this age range are finding their identities and struggling with insecurities and the desire to be independent. However, young people in this stage are also impressionable and easily influenced by their peers’ behavior.
Parents who raise the subject of drugs with tweens and teens may encounter some resistance and defensiveness. Nevertheless, parents and their children must have a conversation about drugs. Children need clear expectations and rules to help them avoid the dangers and life-altering impacts of drug use. Children who don’t know their parents’ values may develop their standards of behavior based on what they hear from friends, music, social media, and television.
Some Do’s and Don’ts for Talking with Kids About Drugs
Fortunately, there are some best practices that parents can use to approach the subject of drugs. These strategies can help children feel respected, trusted, and heard during the discussion. Consider the following do’s and don’ts to help you talk with your children about drugs.
Research shows that some children start using drugs by 12 or 13. Some kids start to use drugs as early as nine—often raiding the family medicine cabinet.
Do Prepare for the Conversation
Approaching the conversation about drugs can be challenging. Many reputable organizations provide online information about kids and drugs that can help guide a positive and productive discussion. Your child may ask if you have ever used drugs. If you did not, explain why you made that decision. If you used drugs, explain why you stopped and what you learned from your experience. It is unnecessary to share every detail of your drug use, but most importantly, your child needs to know that it was a dangerous mistake they don’t need to make.
Do Plan the Conversation
When speaking with adolescents and teens about drugs, give them a heads-up regarding when you want to talk with them. For example, you can say, “Let’s chat about drugs after dinner tomorrow.” Assure your child that they are not in trouble. Explain that it’s important to have the discussion and that you look forward to sharing and learning.
Don’t Be Surprised by What You May Hear
Don’t be surprised if your child knows peers who use drugs. If your child shares this information, listen and ask questions to help you determine what they think about their peers’ drug use.
Do Use an Age-Appropriate Approach
Young children may not understand complex information about drugs. Talking to younger kids about drugs can include helping them distinguish between drugs and candy. Many medications are colorful and look like jellybeans, gummies, and other candies. Help children understand that medicines the doctor gives us help us feel better when we are sick, and they should not take those medications for any other reason.
Teaching kids about drugs should also include the advice never to take pills or medicine belonging to other people. Likewise, they should refuse candy offered by strangers and be cautious about accepting candy from friends, especially when it is not in an original sealed package.
Talk to your child and not at them. Rather than lecturing, encourage them to share their thoughts. Begin with open-ended questions, such as “What have you heard about marijuana?” or “What do you think about making marijuana legal?” “How do you feel about kids who use drugs?” Listen carefully to statements that can provide cues that your child needs accurate information to help them not use drugs.
Do Take Advantage of Teachable Moments
The teachable moment can be powerful and may be an excellent time to discuss drugs with young kids. If you and your child observe individuals smoking or vaping, explain the dangers of that behavior. Children need to understand that smoking or vaping may appear cool but can lead to serious health problems and may be deadly.
Teachable moments also work with older children. Media reports of vehicle accidents or violence resulting from teen drug use serve as springboards for discussing how alcohol and drug use can ruin lives. Explain how television and songs often glamorize alcohol and drug use but never show the destruction drugs cause.
Don’t Assume Your Child Won’t Try Drugs
Talking with your child is necessary to warn them about the dangers of drug use. Children often listen to what their friends say. A friend who uses drugs may convince your child that drugs are not that bad, so it is vital to set clear expectations and rules. Your child must understand that you will not tolerate drug or alcohol use. They also need to know what the consequences will be should they decide to use drugs. Taking away driving privileges, grounding, and early curfews are examples of logical consequences when a child uses drugs. Consequences remind children of the seriousness of risky behavior like drug use, so be consistent and enforce them.
Do Prepare Your Child to Handle Peer Pressure
You can help your child learn to say no when peers encourage them to try drugs. Brainstorm ways to say no and try role-playing those situations with your child to help them respond to peers who pressure them to use drugs.
What to Do if Your Child is Involved with Drugs
In some situations, you may suspect your child is using drugs due to behavior changes such as skipping school, associating with a new peer group, stealing, or if their grades start to decline. If you confirm that your child is using drugs, try to stay calm and learn what led them to drug use.
Remember, you don’t have to deal with your child’s drug use alone. We can help. Contact us today by calling (866) 653-6220. Our compassionate team of counselors is standing by to take your call 24/7.