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Talking with Your Child about Drinking and Drugs

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KEY POINTS

  • When parents talk with their child about the dangers of drinking and drugs, the child is much less likely to use these substances. And the earlier you start talking with your child, the better. Teaching your child to make healthy choices before problems start is better than dealing with problems once they happen.
  • Be positive and make it a conversation, not a lecture. Encourage questions and feedback from your child. The more prepared your child is, the better able your child will be to handle high-pressure situations that involve drinking or drugs.
  • Be a role model. Show your children healthy ways to cope with stress such as physical activity, listening to music, or talking things over with family members or a friend.

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Children turn to drugs and alcohol for many reasons. Some do it because of pressure from friends. Others are trying to relieve stress or emotional pain in their lives. Some do drugs to rebel or act older than they are.

When parents talk with their child about the dangers of drinking and drugs, the child is much less likely to use these substances. And the earlier you start talking with your child, the better. Teaching your child to make healthy choices before problems start is better than dealing with problems once they happen.

Why are drinking and drugs a problem?

Substance abuse can:

  • Delay or limit your child’s emotional and mental development
  • Keep your child from getting good grades in school
  • Negatively affect athletic ability
  • Put your child at higher risk for unplanned sex, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases
  • Increase the risk for accidents when driving, bicycling, or swimming
  • Increase the risk for violent behavior
  • Lead to arrests, fines, and possibly loss of a driver's license
  • Worsen feelings of loneliness or depression and lead to suicide attempts

How should I set the stage?

Build a strong and natural bond by showing an interest in your child’s friends, school work, and activities. No matter what you want to talk about, it helps if you have a loving, trusting relationship with your child. This makes it easier for your child to talk honestly with you when your child has questions or faces peer pressure.

Let your child speak honestly. Show that you want to know what your child thinks and feels. Your child or teen is more likely to talk with you about important issues if your child feels that you really listen. Think about how your child might react to what you want to say and how best to respond to questions and feelings. Talk when both of you have time and are feeling relaxed.

Short, simple talks through childhood and the teen years will get the message across better than trying to cover everything in just one talk. If you are watching TV with your 6-year-old and drinking is mentioned on a program, you can ask if your child knows what alcohol is. If your child has more questions, answer them. If not, let it go. Take advantage of opportunities to talk with your child.

What should I say?

Be positive and make it a conversation, not a lecture. Children, especially teens, hate to be lectured. It also helps children learn to make healthy decisions on their own. Praise your child’s courage to make good decisions no matter what others are doing.

Try asking about what your child may already know about drugs or alcohol. It’s helpful to know what your child and friends are talking about and if your child’s friends are trying alcohol or drugs. Ask what your child thinks about children or teens drinking or using drugs. Trying to scare older children or teens does not keep them from drinking or doing drugs. Give facts and talk about reasons not to drink or use drugs.

Encourage questions and feedback from your child. Stay calm and accept your child’s questions at face value. Use open-ended questions when you talk with your child, rather than questions that require just a “yes or no” answer.

Share your family values with your child and talk about what you believe is right and wrong. Your child needs your advice on values. Develop family rules about drinking and drugs. Make sure that your child knows what will happen if rules are broken.

Talk with your child about what makes a good friend such as someone who cares and will not pressure your child to do things that might lead to problems. Encourage your child to spend time with friends who don’t use alcohol or drugs. Brainstorm about ways that your child might handle tough situations, and ways you can help. For example, "If you find yourself at a home where there is drinking, call me and I'll pick you up. There will be no scolding or punishment." The more prepared your child is, the better able your child will be to handle high-pressure situations that involve drinking or drugs.

What should I avoid?

Be a role model. Don’t drink and drive. Don't tell your child stories about your own drinking in a way that sends the message that alcohol use is funny or exciting. Don't let your child think that alcohol is a good way to handle problems. For example, don't come home complaining about work and say that you need a drink. Show your children healthy ways to cope with stress such as being physically active, listening to music, or talking things over with family or friends.

If you need advice about how to talk with your child about drinking and drugs, or you think your child may already be abusing alcohol or drugs, talk with your child’s healthcare provider, school nurse, or religious leader.

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-10-16
Last reviewed: 2019-08-26
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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