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Parenting: How to Talk To Your Kids About Drugs And Alcohol

Parenting isn’t easy, especially when it comes to talking to children about alcohol and drugs. Many parents hope to avoid the subject entirely. As parents we have far more influence than we think and talking honestly about alcohol and drugs can have a real impact. In fact, research has shown that kids who have conversations with their parents and learn a lot about the dangers of alcohol and drug use are 50% less likely to use alcohol and drugs than those who don’t have such conversations.

More than one in five parents of teens think what they say has little influence on whether their child uses alcohol, illicit substances or tobacco, according to a report out Friday.

The report, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), says nearly one in 10 parents (9.1%) said they did not talk to their kids ages 12 through 17 about the dangers of using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs in the past year.

The findings based on SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual nationwide survey of 67,500 Americans ages 12 and older.

Any time is a good time to talk to your kids about substance use. If you haven’t started talking to your kids, before school gets out is an especially good time. In the summer months, especially around holiday weekends, kids are more likely to get involved with substances. Kids may have more access to substances when they are out of school and at holiday parties.

Parents need to start age-appropriate conversations about these issues with their children at all stages of their development to help make sure that their children make the right decisions

Early on, give very basic information. As kids get older, we need to talk about the impact on health, academics, relationships, driving and the dangers of alcohol and prescription drugs. Here are some basic guidelines on how to talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol:

  • Listen Before You Talk Encourage Conversation: As parents we want to have “all the answers.”  And, sometimes we are so anxious to share our wisdom or our opinion that we don’t take the time to listen.  For kids, knowing that we are really listening is the most important thing we can do to help.

  • Talk to Your Child and Ask Open Ended Questions: Talk to your child regularly – about their feelings, their friends, their activities – and listen to what they have to say. As much as you can, and sometimes it’s not easy, try to avoid questions that have a simple “yes” or “no” answer.

  • Be Involved: Be involved in your child’s everyday world. Get to know your child’s friends and continue to educate your child about maintaining good health – psychological, emotional and physical.

  • Set Expectations, Limits and Consequences: Make it clear that you do not want your child drinking alcohol or using drugs and that you trust them not to. Talk about possible consequences of drug and alcohol use, both legal and medical, and be clear about what you will do if they break rules.

  • Be Honest and Open: Care about what your child is going through as they face and make decisions that will affect their lives now and for the future.

  • Be Positive: Many parents have discovered that talking about alcohol and drugs with their children has built bridges and not walls between them and have proudly watched those children learn to make healthy, mature decisions on their own.
  •  Family History: Both research and personal experience have clearly documented that addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a chronic, progressive disease that are linked to family history and genetics. So, if you have a family history of problems with alcohol or drugs, be matter of fact about it, as you would any other chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but if you’re reading this page it’s likely you have one of the key ingredients for success: WILLINGNESS. It is challenging to develop the communication skills needed to talk with your children about drinking and drugs, but it will be well worth the effort you put into it, as you get to know your children a little better and help them build the coping skills they need to handle the anger, stress, peer pressure, loneliness and disappointment that are part of being an adolescent. Helping them build the skills they need to cope with these challenges is important not only in life, but in staying away from alcohol and drugs as well.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at [email protected]

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