Summer is a time for beach days, barbeques, adventures and hanging out with family and friends. It is also a common time for young people to try alcohol. The good news is that research shows that kids whose parents/guardians talk to them about drugs and alcohol, are 50% less likely to use them.1 Here are 5 tips to make conversations with your kids less daunting and more effective.
1. It’s not just one talk.
Experts recommend that parents talk to their children often and consistently. Having many small and frequent conversations is more effective at getting your message across. It can also be a lot less intimidating for both you and your child. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents begin talking with their kids about alcohol around the age of 9, but you can start these conversations even younger. Not sure what’s age appropriate for your child? Check out these scenarios and scripts for what to say at every age.
2. Know the best times to talk.
You know your children better than anyone else. Pay attention to when they are the most talkative and use these times to speak with them about drugs and alcohol. Depending on your child, this might be in the car, before bed, or during dinner. Look for natural opportunities to bring up the topic, like incidents in news, a scene in a movie, advertisements, or even a situation with a friend.
3. Make it a conversation not a lecture.
Listen, avoid criticism, and encourage an open dialogue. Your child will be much more receptive if they feel their opinions are being heard and that it is a two-way conversation. Ask them open-ended questions and make sure they have the chance to ask you questions too. Be open and honest. Let your child know that you are there to support them and that your main priority is their health and happiness.
4. Know what to say.
Setting clear expectations for your child’s behavior is important, but it’s not enough to tell them to “Just Say No.” Instead, help them understand why you don’t want them to use alcohol and other drugs; remind them that you care about them and explain both the risks of alcohol use and the benefit of choosing not to drink. Make sure they are aware of the short- and long-term consequences. As adults, we know that alcohol use at a young age can interfere with brain development and increase risk of addiction. But, for youth, understanding the short-term consequences– bad grades, poor sport performance, embarrassing themselves in front of friends— may be more effective. Lastly, talk with your child in advance about situations that might arise around alcohol and drugs. While it may seem awkward, role playing can be an effective way to help them build skills for dealing with uncomfortable situations.
5. Be prepared for tough questions
Don’t be caught off guard if your child asks you a tough question about your own alcohol use. Here are a few questions your child may ask:
Why is it okay for you to drink alcohol, but not for me?
Explain to your child that as an adult you choose to drink alcohol responsibly and in moderation. However, it is both illegal and unsafe for youth to drink. The human brain continues to develop until our mid-20’s and drinking alcohol at a young age can interfere with healthy brain development and increase risk of addiction later in life. (Learn more about the impact of alcohol on the teen brain). Again, emphasize that you care about them and that your main priority is their health and happiness.
Did you drink when you were my age?
It’s okay to be honest with your child, but don’t sensationalize or glamorize your use through personal stories. Instead, talk to them about any consequence that you faced or explain to them why you wished you hadn’t drank alcohol at their age.
Sources: 1. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. “National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings.” Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health; https://www.samhsa.gov/underage-drinking/parent-resources/small-conversations; https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/adolescentflyer/adolflyer.htm; https://keepconnected.searchinstitute.org/growing-up-responsibly/prevent-alcohol-and-tobacco-use/;