As a parent, you are the biggest influence in your child’s life and having open, honest conversations is one of the most powerful ways to connect with your kids and help them develop into healthy adults. When addressing some more challenging topics – like nicotine, alcohol or drugs – it’s not about having a one-time “drug talk,” but rather tackling the subject through more frequent, organic conversations that evolve as your child gets older. Some things to keep in mind:
The preschool years are all about laying the foundation for healthy habits. The following are some age-appropriate scenarios to help your child understand risks related to substance use.
Taking your daily vitamin, or giving your child their daily vitamin.
Vitamins help your body grow. You need to take them every day so you can grow up big and strong, but you should only take what I give you. Someone else’s vitamins or too many vitamins can hurt you and make you sick.
Your kids are curious about medicine bottles they see in your home.
You only take medicine when you’re sick, and only if your parent or doctor gives it to you. Taking medicine by yourself, taking the wrong medicine or taking medicine that isn’t especially for you could be dangerous.
Your child sees an adult smoking or vaping and, since you’ve talked about the dangers of smoking before, they are confused.
Grownups make their own decisions and sometimes those decisions aren’t the best or healthiest choice for their bodies. When someone starts smoking, their body feels like it has to have cigarettes and that makes it harder for them to stop doing it. That’s why it’s so important to never even try smoking or vaping.
Younger elementary school children still crave time and connection with family and most are eager to please, but they’re also beginning to explore their individuality. Building on the aforementioned tips, here are some age-appropriate scenarios to help your child understand how to stay healthy and avoid risks related to substance use.
Your child has expressed curiosity about the pills they see you take every day — and the other bottles in the medicine cabinet.
Just because it’s in a family’s medicine cabinet doesn’t mean that it is safe for you to take. Even if your friends say it’s okay, you can say, “No, my parents won’t let me take something that doesn’t have my name on the bottle and that my parents didn’t give to me.”
Your child chooses an outfit for school that doesn’t match and will definitely attract attention.
“I love how you express your individual style and personality in your outfits.” Whenever possible, let your child choose what to wear, even if the clothes don’t quite match. You are reinforcing your child’s ability to make decisions for themselves.
Preteens who are trying to figure out their place in the world tend to give their friends’ opinions a great deal of power. At the same time, they’re also beginning to question their parents’ views and rules. This shift is natural, healthy and part of a normal process of maturity and identity development. The following are some age-appropriate scenarios to help your preteen understand how to stay healthy and avoid risks related to substance use.
Your child is just starting middle school and you know that it’s more likely that they will now be exposed to substances at school or in social environments.
I know we talked about this when you were younger, but you’re at the age now when you might be seeing or hear about other kids vaping, smoking, drinking or using drugs. I want you to remember that our family does not allow any substance use because it’s bad for your health and your brain. I’m here for you and the best thing you can do is talk to me if you are confused or concerned.
You hear from other parents that kids are selling prescription drugs at your child’s school. Your child hasn’t mentioned it but you want to talk to them about it.
“I heard some kids at your school are selling pills – prescription medications that they or someone in their family takes. Have you heard about kids doing this?” Practice role playing some practical responses they can give if offered medications by a friend. Let them know that they can always use you as an excuse to get out of a bad situation. You can say, “If you’re ever offered prescription medication, you can tell them, ‘my parents would kill me if I did that’ or ‘my parents can always tell if I’m lying or hiding something.'”
Your child’s favorite celebrity is involved in a drug scandal and your child read about it online.
Being in the public eye puts a lot of pressure on people, and some may turn to drug use because they think it will relieve that stress. But when a person uses drugs and alcohol — especially a young person who’s still growing — it changes how their brain works and they make poor decisions. Most people who use drugs and alcohol need a lot of help to get better. I hope the celebrity has a good doctor and friends and family members to help them through this.
We know teens are incredibly savvy when it comes to their knowledge about substance use, and they need information and messages based in real life. This is a pivotal time for parents to help their kids make positive choices about substances. The following are some scenarios to help your child understand how to stay healthy and navigate risks related to substance use.
You’re with your child and you both notice a few kids vaping.
“It really concerns me to see those kids vaping. I know that it’s becoming more common among kids your age, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. What do you think about vaping? Do any of your friends do it?” While vaping may be a popular activity for some teens, it isn’t considered safe, especially for teens and young adults whose brains are still developing. Set clear expectations and explain why you don’t want your child vaping (e.g., concern about toxins, a broad range of health consequences, nicotine addiction).
Your teen is starting high school — and you want to remind them that they do not have to give in to peer pressure to vape, drink or use substances.
“High school will be a fun time in your life, and we want you to enjoy yourself with your friends, but we also know you might experience pressure to drink alcohol, vape or use marijuana or other substances. A lot of people feel like this is just a normal part of being a teenager. It isn’t. Most teens actually don’t do those things.
You’ll have lots of decisions to make for yourself, and you might even make some mistakes. Just know that you can talk to us about anything, anytime — even if you DO make a mistake or feel stuck in a situation and need our help. We won’t freak out and, together, we’ll figure out a way to help you.”
Your teen has started to hang out with kids you don’t know — and dropped their old friends.
“I’ve noticed you’re hanging with a different crowd than you have in the past. Is something going on with your usual friends? Is there a problem with them, or are you just branching out and meeting some new kids? Tell me about your new friends. Do you want to invite them over to our house sometime? I’d really like to meet them.”
Your kid comes home smelling of alcohol or cigarette smoke.
Your response should be measured, quiet and serious — not yelling, shouting or overly emotional. Your child should realize that this isn’t just a small, frustrating moment like when they don’t complete a chore or do what you’ve asked; this is a very serious moment. You can say, “I’m really upset that you’re smoking/drinking. I love you and care about you and want to understand why you chose to do it. Your health and well-being are what’s most important, and I need you to be honest. So for starters, tell me about what happened tonight and why you or your friends were drinking.”
As you prepare your young adult child for life after high school, you can help guide them to a healthy experience — while still supporting their independence. The following are some scenarios to help share guidance with your young adult child.
Your adult child is moving to their own apartment or into a college dorm.
“I know you’re off to start your own life, and I respect that you’re old enough to make your own choices, but if you ever want another perspective, please know that I’m always here for you.”
After watching a movie portraying drug use together, you want to gauge your adult child’s opinion on substance use.
“I know you might think I’m being over-protective or meddling, but that movie really disturbed me and I’m curious about your thoughts: Is there a lot of drug use going on at your school? Do you have any friends that use drugs? How do you feel about that?”