Everyone remembers “the talk” with their parents (no, not that one). In some cases, we remember the lack of a talk. During the 1980s and 90s, it was all about DARE classroom presentations. Some parents believe in openly and responsibly drinking in front of their children to model good behavior, others are vigilant about preaching the risks of drug and alcohol use (not to mention abuse), and still others take a don’t-tell-and-hope-the-kids-don’t-ask approach. What really are the best ways to educate kids about drug and alcohol dangers?
- Start young, and be consistent. Talking about life’s temptations, risks and responsibilities isn’t a one-and-done approach. Talk openly about teen addiction, how alcohol affects developing minds, and back up talks with statistics. Googling information together doesn’t show lack of knowledge—it shows initiative.
- Steer clear of fear mongering. There’s no need to exaggerate or instantly go to the worst case scenario. Kids will experiment eventually and will quickly find out smoking a joint doesn’t lead to a life of debauchery. Stick with averages, facts and perhaps honest, personal experience.
- Talk about addiction and genetics. Alcoholism and drug addiction have a strong genetic component. If someone in your blood family struggles with addiction, your child is more prone to a similar path. When they do start experimenting, they need to be aware of their higher risk factors.
- Consider sharing your own experiences. This isn’t a must by any means, but kids may ask, and you need to know beforehand how much you’ll share (if anything at all). Prepare this particular conversation in advance, taking the age of the child into consideration. If you do share, be honest with what you talk about, and keep hyperbole at bay.
- Don’t focus solely on the negative. There’s a big difference between legal, responsible drinking (and in some states marijuana use) and alcohol/drug abuse. This doesn’t mean parents should be boasting how fun it is to go out for a night on the town, but discussing what constitutes responsible drinking is a big part in drug/alcohol education.
- Share concrete consequences beyond the most severe. Telling a child that drinking and driving can kill them and others seems like it should shock them out of ever imbibing—but it won’t. For some, especially teenagers, talking about getting their license taken away for years, required community service, fines that you’ll make them work off, taking the bus to school and the like seems like a much more “reasonable” punishment that might happen. It can be a better deterrent than talking about crash statistics that might seem squarely in the “it won’t happen to me” category.
- Choose the time and place wisely. Talking to children about risks and dangerous regularly is important, but so is choosing the right environment. A serious, sit-down conversation can be off-putting. Instead, choose relaxing moments together, such as when you pick them up from a practice and they’re in the backseat. Sometimes not having to make eye contact encourages flowing dialogue, especially with males.
- Troubleshoot alternatives to drinking. Telling anyone, especially a child, not to drink or do drugs sounds like a good idea until you put yourself in their shoes. If they’re at a party, what else are they supposed to do? Brainstorm replies, alternatives such as heading to another group at the party, and even comebacks should their friends try to egg them on. These suggestions will give them real fuel to work with.
- Ask them why they’d want to drink/do drugs and what they think the effects will be. This can be an effective approach regardless of age. It can be shocking to discover what kids really think alcohol/drug effects entail.
- Keep your cool when they say outlandish things. Maybe it’s to get a rise out of you, or maybe it’s intentional. However, over-reacting when discussing alcohol and drugs is a fast way to backfire the conversation.
Right now is the best time to consider or reconsider your approach to this tough topic. It’s never too early, and if you’re behind, that’s okay. Get on board now, and define your unique way to tackle drug and alcohol talks with your kids.