Parents and Kids: Talk About It
Drugs, alcohol or other unhealthy decisions and behaviors can be difficult topics to discuss with your kids. It also is difficult because some of these topics can be uncomfortable, time consuming, cause confrontation, and even disappointment. It is hard to talk about some of these issues with your kids and it is important to have a strategy in order to have these discussions.
Too many times parents overlook these important conversations or often are not sure how to bring up these issues. Studies show that kids and teens are starting to experiment with substances such as drugs and alcohol at a much younger age. With the rise of social media, decisions and behaviors of kids have become more impulsive and irrational. However, national studies have shown that kids who learn about the risks of drugs and alcohol from their parents are up to 50% less likely to use than those who do not (drugfree.org) and this can also be said of other decisions. Building a close relationship with your children will increase the likelihood that they will come to you when making decisions that impact their health and well-being. So let’s get started!
Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when talking with your kids about these tough issues:
1) Start the discussion
Most importantly, find a time when you have the other person’s complete attention, if needed, schedule a time for a one-on-one activity or a few hours away from your chaotic schedules. We know this can be hard to do but it is essential to listen and understand both parties.
Another important part of the discussion is to do research on the topic you want to discuss with your kids. If you are talking about drugs and alcohol, know the latest trends and what types of situations your kids face each day.
Then start the conversation…
- Start the conversation by talking about a recent event that has happened in the news
- EX – Hey, did you hear on the news about the teenage girl who overdosed while at a party?
- EX – Did you hear that Tommy is the president of a new drug prevention club at your school?
- EX – Hey, I heard about a drug called bath salts on the news, do you know anything about it?
- Share a story from your childhood (I know its cliché, but it works)
- Try to find a story that relates to your kids situation and not just a “back when I was a kid…”
- Tell an embarrassing or dangerous situation that happened to you, a close friend, or relative as a result of unhealthy decision.
2) Listen carefully
Most parents miss this step and the discussion goes from a civil talk to an argument or lecture. By listening to feelings and concerns of your kids, they will feel more comfortable talking to you about their issues.
If it helps, try role playing different situations with your kids. Give them a situation and have them come up with ways to avoid those bad decisions.
EX – Situation: You’re at your friend’s house and you find beer in the fridge. He or she asks you if you want one, what do you say?
Answers/Suggestions: “No thanks, I don’t drink beer,” “Nah, that’s okay, let’s get back to playing PS4, or “No, I don’t want beer, I need to stay in shape for basketball.”
Remember to praise your kid if they come up with a good response and just give some suggestions if they don’t.
3) Encourage decision making
As parents, we want our kids to make good decisions and create opportunities where they can make important decisions, with your supervision. This will allow them to be confident decision-makers, when you are not around.
EX – A 9-year old is capable of deciding if she wants to have a bowling party or a swimming party for her birthday
EX – A 13-year-old can decided whether she wants to join the school band or try out for choir.
As your child has more opportunity to make good decisions, youu will both feel more comfortable in making the right decision in more serious circumstances.
4) Provide age-appropriate information
Make sure the information that you offer fits the child’s age and stage. If you have a younger child, pre-school, or early elementary, relate the topic to something they can understand.
EX – While brushing his/her teeth, you can say, “There are lots of things we do to keep our bodies healthy, like brushing our teeth. But there are also things we shouldn’t do because they hurt our bodies, like smoking or taking medicines when we are not sick.”
EX – If you are watching TV with a kid in middle school and marijuana is mentioned on a program, you can say, “Do you know what marijuana is? It’s a bad drug that can hurt your body.”
If your child has more questions, answer them. If not, let it go. Short, simple comments said and repeated often enough will get the message across.
You can offer your older child the same message, but add more drug-specific information. Be prepared to explain what the drug looks like, how it affects the body, when they would come in contact with it, etc.
These examples can also be applied to social media, bullying, or other destructive behaviors.
5) Establish a family position on tough issues
It is okay to set a clear standard when it comes to drugs, alcohol, social media, bullying, or other hot topics. You are the parent and your kids will respect you giving them guidelines, whether they let you know it or not. Make sure you explain why your family is taking a stance on the issue, ask them for input or questions, and make sure the explanation is age appropriate.
EX – “We do not allow any drug use, and children in this house are not allowed to drink alcohol” or “The only time we take medicine or drugs is when we don’t feel good and either the doctor, mom, or dad gives it to you.”
EX – “No one is allowed to have a FaceBook profile until they are 15.”
5) Be a good example
Children are more likely to follow your actions than your words, so set a good example. This includes not always reaching for a beer when you come home, stressed from work. It can send the message that drinking is the best way to unwind. Or don’t always offer just alcoholic beverages to your dinner guests; provide non-alcoholic choices. This can also be applied to social media, language, and relationships too.
EX – If you have a FaceBook profile, don’t post your whole life story or all the details of your day; kids might view this as an acceptable way to express themselves or communicate.
EX – Try to avoid using foul language or degrading terms/actions in front of your kids or to other individuals; these actions can show them that it’s acceptable to treat people in a negative way.
Your behaviors need to reflect your beliefs!!
6) Discuss relationships
Relationships are not just romantic but can also be defined through friendships, family, schools, peers, and authority figures. All of these relationships are important when it comes to your child making the right decision. Discussing peer pressure, what makes a good friend, or the type of people with whom they spend time, can make all the difference. Kids also need to know how to build relationships with other adult figures in their lives, such as teachers, coaches, youth pastors, or other parents. By creating this relationship, it can make them feel more comfortable turning to someone to express concern or trouble.
7) Help build self-esteem
Kids who feel good about themselves are much less likely than those who don’t to turn to drugs, alcohol, or other destructive behaviors/decisions. As parents, we can do a number of things to enhance our child’s self-image.
EX – offer lots of praise on a job well done.
- If you need to criticize your child talk about the action, not the person
- Assign do-able chores, followed by recognition when the task is complete
- Spend one-on-one time with your kids (even just 15 uninterrupted minutes can help)
- Tell your child you are proud of them on multiple occasions
- Say, “I Love You” you can never say that too much!
8) Allow them to ask questions
Allow your kids to come to you and ask any question and try to provide an answer even if the question might take you by surprise or is just a silly question. You might not have all the answers but try not to blow them off or give them a generic answer; kids will read into this as you don’t have time for them. If you listen to them and they can see that you have given their question some thought or consideration, it will help you build trust with them. In turn, this will make them feel more comfortable with coming to you for more important questions.
9) Repeat the message
Information and lessons about drugs, alcohol, social media, relationships, and any other issues are important enough to repeat and repeat frequently. Try to take advantage of situations or questions that come up which can provide you with a window into a conversation with your child.
10) If there is a problem, seek help
These issues and trends are affecting kids at a much younger age. Here are some signs that your kid might be dealing with a problem:
Physical warning signs of drug abuse
- Bloodshot eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual
- Changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Deterioration of physical appearance, personal grooming habits
- Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing
- Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination
Behavioral signs of drug abuse
- Drop in attendance and performance at work or school
- Unexplained need for money or financial problems. May borrow or steal to get it.
- Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors
- Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies
- Frequently getting into trouble (fights, accidents, illegal activities)
Psychological warning signs of drug abuse
- Unexplained change in personality or attitude
- Sudden mood swings, irritability, or angry outbursts
- Periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness
- Lack of motivation; appears lethargic or “spaced out”
- Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason
Behavioral signs of another problem (bullying, self-esteem, etc)
- Your kid has become withdrawn
- Turns extremely moody
- Sadness or hopelessness
- Lost of interest in activities or school
- Change in eating or sleeping habits
- Restlessness and agitation
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
If you suspect a problem or need to talk to someone, seek help. Feel free to email or call us and we can connect you with the right resource in our community.