How to Talk to Kids About Alcohol, Drugs and Safety
As we get ready to celebrate another New Year’s Eve, parents are wondering how to talk to their kids about staying safe that night. Especially parents of older kids. But preparing children for nights out with friends is a yearlong issue. That preparation starts with an open discussion. Talking to children honestly, from an early age, about alcohol, drugs and how to stay safe is important. Parents can help their kids by giving them the facts ahead of time. This is far more effective than trying to solve a problem once it’s begun.
Remember that you’re the most important influence in your child’s life. Nothing is more powerful than a discussion around the kitchen table with a caring adult. Include this topic in regular, meaningful conversations about their health and the importance of good choices.
Make sure they know they can come to you with any questions, any time. Kids are more likely to postpone experimenting with drugs and drinking if you communicate directly and often. They will also better understand your rules and you’ll be able to spot warning signs earlier.
Start when they’re young
There are so many moments when you can casually discuss this issue with children as young as 2 years of age. For example, if you’re watching a movie or video and a character is smoking, use that opportunity to talk about its harmful effects. The same goes with commercials or real-life encounters.
Your tone should be calm, rather than alarming. Explain that drugs can hurt them in language they’ll understand. Encourage them to talk to you and to decline anything dangerous that might be offered to them.
By the time a child is nine years old, they already begin thinking of alcohol as “cool.” Records show that 3,000 children over 12 use marijuana each day. These are growing brains particularly susceptible to negative side effects. Start talking to them about it now.
Discussions change when kids become tweens
Lots of parents know to work on their facial expressions during serious talks with children. For instance, when a child comes to you with disturbing information about what they’re hearing at school, it helps for the parent to keep a neutral response. If you look judgmental or upset, your children might think twice about coming to you in the future.
You always want to be there for them. Make sure you show that on your face.
Periodically check in with your tweens. Do they have any questions about drugs? Drinking? What are their friends saying? Don’t go to them with an agenda. Help them with the questions they already have and encourage honest discussions.
You can also use related news stories to spark conversations. Drug use amongst athletes, musicians or other noteworthy celebrities might make it easier to talk about the issue.
Talking to teens about alcohol and drugs
When children enter their teenage years, don’t be surprised if they have friends who are already experimenting. They’re also beginning to attend parties and events without adult supervision. This includes driving or riding along with friends.
Use this transition period to talk about the dangers involved in driving under the influence. Include legal consequences such as jail time and fines as well as loss of life. If you have any personal anecdotes, share those with your teenage children.
If you live near water, or boating is a part of your family’s activities, talk about the dangers of alcohol and drug use in that context as well.
Some parents even draft a written contract about going out with friends or using the car. One of the most important things a parent can do is to make a promise. Promise your children that if they call you for a ride, no matter the time or circumstance, that you will pick them up – no questions asked. Assure them they will not be punished and that their safety is the most important thing to you.
Continue to encourage teenagers to discuss this issue. They may ask more specific questions, sometimes based on personal experiences or things they hear in the hallways at school. Work on neutral facial expressions and emotional responses. You want them to feel safe coming to you.
Tips for a safer New Year’s Eve
If you’ve raised your children with open communication, and stay involved in their lives, you have less to worry about. But drugs and alcohol use can affect any family. Here are some things you can do ahead of New Year’s Eve – and any time that might be risky – to help your teenagers stay safer.
- Discuss the issue before they go out for the night. Go over expectations.
- Take an interest in where they’ll be going for the night. Are parents supervising these activities? If possible, get their contact information.
- Include a reminder of rules if necessary.
- Encourage them to call or text you, at any time, no matter what happens, and you’ll come and get them.
- Make sure they have Uber or Lyft on their phones. These are decent options if, for any reason, they feel uncomfortable calling you.
- Role play scenarios where they practice saying no when someone offers them drugs or booze.
- If you set up a curfew, please let your kids know that they shouldn’t rush home or endanger themselves to get in at a certain time. Their safety is paramount. A few minutes late for curfew isn’t the end of the world.
Once again, parents have the most influence over their kids. A solid relationship is one of the best deterrents when it comes to whether a child starts experimenting with alcohol and drugs. If you support and nurture healthy choices in your kids, they’re more likely to make them. There are also many community resources that can also assist families in this area. This includes ALCOA, MADD, and professional counselors.