Talking with your kids about substance use is not a one-time event.
It's important to have an open conversation with your children as early as possible about substance use because they need to be educated by you.
Sharing the facts about the substances your kids may encounter and the health consequences of substance use is one way to prevent experimentation. They need to hear from you that drug and alcohol use by underage pre-teens and teens is not condoned in your family. They need to learn from you, their parents, about the health consequences of drug and alcohol use. Most importantly, they need to be held accountable for their actions with drugs and alcohol use.
Get Ready to Talk! A new resource to help parents begin the conversation.
Talking with your kids about drugs might seem tough, but it is important.
Here are some simple steps you can take to get ready for conversations with your children.
Download Get Ready to Talk brochure here.
What happens if you suspect that your teen is already using alcohol and drugs? What do you say to them then? The conversation is the same: parents need to tell their kids that drug and alcohol use by pre-teens or teens is not allowed in your family.
The Issue Won't Go Away Until You Do Something
You will get to the point where you can't deny that the problem exists. You'll have a continuous nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach. You will simply have to acknowledge that your child has a problem — your child is using drugs and that won't get any better until you take action on your child's behalf.
It's OK to ask for help. In fact, getting help may make it easier for you and your child to have meaningful conversations.
Work with Your Spouse Beforehand
When you acknowledge that your child has a problem with drugs or alcohol, sometimes the beginning of the conversation with your spouse or partner is the hardest part. It can be a profound conversation that is often laden with sadness, anger, and regret. Denial can play a big part in that initial conversation, as does finger-pointing, but neither reaction is helpful. The most important thing is to move on and figure out what both of you, together, can do to help your child.
This is a time for you and your spouse or partner to establish rules and consequences for your child if he or she uses drugs or alcohol. The rules should be simple: no drug or alcohol use by teens will be allowed in your family. The consequences should be straightforward and meaningful to the teen.
Don’t go to extremes in setting consequences — choose those that you are able to carry out.
Need Help Finding the Right Words?
Practice The Conversation With Each Other Ahead of Time
You may need to have a couple of “practice runs.” These conversations are not easy but they are worthwhile. Talking it over with your spouse or partner beforehand will help you keep a level head and speak to the issue. Review some suggested conversations beforehand.
Make Agreements with Yourself
Tell yourself that you won’t “lose it” with your child. Anger and hostility won’t get you anywhere in this conversation. Stay as calm as possible. Remember, you are the parent and you are in charge. Be kind, simple, and direct in your statements to your child. Above all, remember to tell your child that you love him or her! The conversation will not be perfect — no conversation ever is. Know that you are doing the right thing for your child. That’s what matters most!
Here are some suggested things to keep in mind when you talk to your child:
- Tell your son or daughter that you LOVE him/her, and you are worried that he/she might be using drugs or alcohol;
- You KNOW that drugs may seem like the thing to do, but doing drugs can have serious consequences;
- It makes you FEEL worried and concerned about them when they do drugs;
- You are there to LISTEN to them;
- You WANT them to be a part of the solution;
- You tell him or her what you WILL do to help them.
Know that you will have this discussion many, many times. Talking with your child about drugs and alcohol is not a one-time event.
Help for Divorced or Single Parents
If you are a parent who is single, divorced, or separated, raising your teenager may bring additional challenges. If you know or suspect that your teenager is using drugs, you may want to reach out to your extended family and friends for help with this problem. Although difficult, you may also need to talk with your ex-spouse, or the child’s parent, in order to create a consistent plan for establishing and enforcing a no-tolerance drug policy.
Firmly, yet warmly make it very clear that he or she will not tolerate drug or alcohol use by your teen. Identify the consequences if he or she does use drugs. All parents find it hard to set and enforce rules, but it’s particularly hard for single parents who are hesitant and don’t want to disrupt the balance of the relationship with their teen. For these parents, it might help to commiserate with your teen. For example, you could say, "I know it’s difficult that I have to make these rules. But I wouldn’t be a good parent if I didn’t take care of and protect your safety."
Also, remember to be available to listen if your teen is having difficulties dealing with your divorce. Use consistent discipline in your home and attempt to communicate with your child’s father/mother in order to continue to enforce the same rules in both households. Make clear rules about curfews and be consistent about asking your teen which friends he/she is hanging out with. Be particularly attentive about knowing where your teenager is after school, especially if you are working long hours. Lastly, continue to help your child grow his/her relationships with grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts in order for him/her to have valuable role models besides yourself.
For specific tips on starting conversations with your teen, read these conversations.
For more information on building support groups, click here.