Speaking with your kids about drugs and alcohol: It’s never too early
By David Sanchez, MS, LPC, LCAS
Licensed Professional Counselor and Addiction’s Expert
Let’s be honest, parenting can be a challenge at times, especially when it comes to speaking to your kids about drugs and alcohol. Some parents prefer to avoid or delay this conversation due to feeling uncomfortable, as this can be a difficult subject to speak to your kids about. In other cases, parents may assume that their children have learned about this in school already, however; school can be the very place they do learn about it, and it is not always through educational programs.
The fact is that many children are learning about alcohol and drugs through their classmates or from older students in their school. The ages of these children are becoming younger and younger, as early as elementary school and even before. The good news is that alcohol and illicit drug use has been declining among teenagers in the last five years according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, however, we are not out of the woods yet. As parents, we need to reach our children as young as possible, as this can help avoid future alcohol and/or drug abuse. In fact, research has shown that “kids who have conversations with their parents and learn a lot about the dangers of alcohol and drug use are 50% less likely to use alcohol and drugs than those who don’t have such conversations”, according to ncadd.org.
Willingness to be a little out of your comfort zone. If you are reading this blog, then you already have most of what will be needed: A willingness to do something out of your comfort zone. It can be difficult to come up with the exact words to communicate to your children about the dangers of alcohol and other drugs, however, it is well worth it, as some children may be curious about drugs and alcohol as a way to escape normal emotions that we all feel such as stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, guilt, boredom, grief, etc. It is important that children learn to navigate these emotions in a healthy way, which will set them up for better overall health in the future. Therefore, speaking to your children will do more than keep them from these substances, it will also help them mature and quite possibly improve your relationship with them. Children, in most cases, do care about what their parents think and believe, and children need to know what you know, even if it is a sensitive subject.
Their age is very important- Your kids are never too young to learn about drugs and alcohol. Research shows that you have “more influence over your children’s attitudes and decision-making about alcohol and drugs before they start, than you do afterwards”, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Therefore, it is so important to start as early as possible. Kids go through many stages as they mature and what’s appropriate to tell a seventeen year old, may not be appropriate for a six year old. The more equipped your kids are regarding this topic, the better off they will be when they are offered these substances by others.
Teachable Moments are everywhere: No child has ever said, “When I grow up I want to be an alcoholic or a drug addict.” However, the reality is that some individuals do become this. National statistics show that about 17 million adults (18 and older) and approximately 855,000 adolescents (ages 12-17) have some time of alcohol use disorder according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. I can’t think of anyone that desires for their children to become an alcohol and/or drug abuser, therefore; as parents we have to use every teachable moment possible. Some great ways of doing this is when you are reading a newspaper or internet article on the topics of drugs or alcohol, to read this aloud and discuss it with you children. Another great discussion to have is when you are as watching movies, television shows, or listening to songs with alcohol and/or drug references. It does not have to be a long discussion, and you don’t have to do all of the talking.
Here are some basic Guidelines for Parents which were found on the NCADD.org website.
- Listen Before You Talk- Encourage Conversation: As parents we want to have “all the answers.” And, sometimes we are so anxious to share our wisdom or our opinion that we don’t take the time to listen. For kids, knowing that we are really listening is the most important thing we can do to help.
- Talk to Your Child and Ask Open Ended Questions: Talk to your child regularly – about their feelings, their friends, their activities – and listen to what they have to say. As much as you can, and sometimes it’s not easy, try to avoid questions that have a simple “yes” or “no” answer.
- Be Involved: Be involved in your child’s everyday world. Get to know your child’s friends and continue to educate your child about the importance of maintaining good health – psychological, emotional and physical. (See “Tips for Prevention”)
- Set Expectations, Limits and Consequences: Make it clear that you do not want your child drinking alcohol or using drugs and that you trust them not to. Talk about possible consequences of drug and alcohol use, both legal and medical, and be clear about what you will do if the rules are broken.
- Be Honest and Open: Care about what your child is going through as they face and make decisions that will affect their lives now and for the future.
- Be Positive: Many parents have discovered that talking about alcohol and drugs with their children has built bridges rather than walls between them and have proudly watched those children learn to make healthy, mature decisions on their own.
- Family History: Both research and personal experience have clearly documented that addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a chronic, progressive disease that can be linked to family history and genetics. So, if you have a family history of problems with alcohol or drugs, be matter of fact about it, as you would any other chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer.
The fact is that alcohol and drug abuse not only costs the American people hundreds of billions of dollars each year, it truly affects the entire family emotionally, as almost everyone knows of a close friend or family member that is abusing alcohol and/or drugs. Parents can play a big role in lowering those numbers. Parents please do not miss these opportunities to teach your children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol as early as possible; if you don’t teach them the wrong individuals will.
For more information, please feel free to schedule an appointment with me at: [email protected] or 980-263-9608. You can find more of my blog articles at www.charlottecounselors.com and if this was helpful please “like us” on Facebook at Charlotte Counseling Associates.