Have the Talk with your Kids in the New Year

A new year calls for new beginnings and new conversations. Some of the more difficult conversations are the ones that parents have with their children pertaining to alcohol and drug use. Nevertheless, they are important talks to have. Research tells us that teens who are educated about the risks of drugs from their parents are less likely to use. In fact, most teens credit conversations with Mom and Dad as their main reason for deciding not to do drugs.

But having those conversations can be challenging as many parents are not sure what to say, or when and how to say it. As you embark on your conversation, keep these four things in mind:  

  • DO start conversations early – well before the teen years. Talking to your kids about alcohol and drug use shouldn’t wait until they reach their teen years. Conversations with younger children may focus on examples of healthy behaviors. As children get older, these conversations should focus more on what your children are seeing and experiencing in social settings
  • DO ask thoughtful questions. Because their brains are still developing, teens don’t judge risks and consequences the way adults do. Most teenagers understand the dangers of substance use, but they tend to underestimate those dangers when weighing the pros and cons. One way to talk about their perceptions of drug use is to ask about what they see on TV, in movies or on the Internet. Questions like “How do you think substance use is portrayed?” and “How realistic is it?” can spark a meaningful dialogue
  • DO set some ground rules for your teen. We recommend setting the “No substance use before age 21” rule, and providing clear reasons for why you don’t want your teen to smoke, drink or use drugs. Some factors may include:

1) Drugs are dangerous for young people and particularly risky because their brains are still developing
2) Drugs do not mix well with school, sports and other teenage activities
3) It is illegal for minors to drink, smoke or use drugs

  • DON’T forget that conversation is a two-way street. The goal is not to lecture but to get your child talking, and actively listen when they do. Good listening means paying attention without interrupting, not reacting defensively or in anger. If your children believe that their feelings make sense to you, and that you legitimately understand them, they will be more likely to communicate openly with you

Finally, it is important to listen carefully to your kids’ ideas about why substance use is, or is not, risky – they may surprise you.

To learn more, you can view the “How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid” presentation here, which offers 10 facets of parental engagement for talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol.

This blog was written by staff at The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

Resources for Parents

Our kids are surrounded by unhealthy choices including choices about using alcohol, tobacco and other drugs - and youth are bombarded with messages encouraging them to make those unhealthy choices. 

A child who gets to age TWENTY-ONE without smoking, using illegal drugs, or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so...and kids who learn about drugs from their parents are much more likely to resist these temptations.

So, don’t rely on school and other kids to teach your children, you can make the difference…

Many teens report that:

their PARENTS have the greatest influence on their drug use attitudes and decisions and

they don’t use alcohol, tobacco or other drugs simply because they do want to disappoint their parents. 

Kids who continue to learn about the risks of drugs at home are up to 50% less likely to use drugs than those who are not taught about these dangers.

What is a parent to do?  Plenty!

The problem is that we don’t tell our children often enough what we think about underage drinking or the use of other illegal drugs or set clear rules for them.   (And it takes more than one talk)  They in turn mistake our silence to mean that we don’t care if they use or we approve of youth using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.  A conversation in the hallway, in the car ride home or on the field can make a difference.

The BEST thing you can do is talk to your kids, early and often about your values, concerns and family rules about substance use.

Begin talking with your child today – starting at age 2 or 3 is not too young – many teens who use alcohol, tobacco and marijuana report their first use being when they were 11 or 12 years old.  Waiting until middle school to have “the talk” with some kids is way too late.  And keep talking with them well into their adulthood- the human brain and body is not fully developed until we are nearly 25 years old.

Talking to your kids is a resource to help you talk to your kids about nicotine, alcohol and other drugs.

Building Blocks for a Healthy Future  - for parents and caregivers of children ages 3 to 6- to help you open up the lines of communication with young children—and make it easier to keep those lines of communication open as they grow older. 

Kids are surrounded by pressures and influences. Make sure you are armed with the latest and most accurate info—so you can be the best influence possible. - See more at Parent Up VT

Tips for Dads

Tips for dads on talking to your teens 

How to talk to your Teen about Marijuana  

Is it possible for teens to become addicted to marijuana?

The 20 minute guide – the leading research-supported way for families to help their substance using loved ones. 


Positive Parenting Prevents Drug Abuse - Take the Family Checkup 

Learn about which parenting skills are important in preventing the initiation and progression of drug use among youth.

How the answer your kids when they ask, “Did you ever do drugs or drink?”
For many parents, the answer is simply “no.” Other parents will want to scream “awkward!”  But experts believe that honesty if the best policy.  So, when they  are old enough, if you choose to share your story with your kids – be sure to tell them why you were attracted to drugs, alcohol or tobacco, why using them is dangerous, and let your child why it is important to you that they don’t use – but it is not necessary or appropriate to share details. Most likely, your child is only looking for a reason to support their own interest in using.  If you admit to your own past use they will assume that it is okay for them.  If you didn’t use they will just assume that you were a nerd and could never understand what it’s like to be a teen today.  The point you want to make clear is that this issue is not about your past, but her/his future.  They need to know how you feel about alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, what your family rules about use are and the consequences for breaking the rules.

What To Say if You Were Once Addicted   

Additional ways parents can contribute to making your community drug-free:

  • Get informed about the scope of the substance use problem in your community.

Are you familiar with how alcohol and other drug use effects local residents? 

Click below to see statistics for youth in your school district http://healthvermont.gov/research/yrbs/2013/district_results.aspx

Find statistics for adults in your region/community:

Information on risk behaviors in Vermont including alcohol, marijuana and prescription drug use from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance system.  Reported by each Health Department District Office region.

Substance Abuse Treatment data for all ages, gender, county & substances 

 Your local community coalition or Prevention Consultant can tell you more about the substance use issues in the community. Link to Coalition Map

  • Learn more about prevention. You can do this by attending a training session, reading about prevention and talking with others who know about substance use.
  • Lend your voice and time to a local coalition working on these issues –  join your local community coalition or start one!  Link to Coalition Map
  • Plan a town hall meeting to inform your community about youth substance use in your community.
  • Connect with other parents who are interested in prevention.   Form relationships in your neighborhood, on the job, at church, or through a parent education organization.
  • Ask groups that you are already a member of (PTSO, Masons, Kiwanis, Rotary, etc.) to address substance use issues.
  • Avoid binge drinking, use of illicit drugs, or the misuse of prescription medications and, as needed, seek help from their clinician for substance abuse disorders.
  • Avoid driving if drinking alcohol or after taking any drug (illicit, prescription, or over-the-counter) that can alter their ability to operate a motor vehicle.
  • Refrain from supplying underage youth with alcohol and ensure that youth cannot access alcohol in your home.
  • Encourage your child to find or spend time with friends who have a positive effect on their life.
  • Teach "life" skills, such as refusal, negotiation, and decision-making skills - hHelp teens practice saying “no,” so if they are invited to smoke or drink alcohol they will have a quick and confident reply.  Tell them what worked for you – saying "My parents would kill me," and help them find what works for them – “No thanks, that’s not for me.”
  • Set limits, monitor your child’s whereabouts and enforce rules about smoking (tobacco and marijuana) and underage drinking and don’t allow any substance use in your home. 
  • Commit to doing simple things like eating at least one meal together as a family every day, asking your child questions and really listening to their answers, complimenting them when they do something right, and scheduling time together.  Learn the 9 Facets of Parental Engagement 
  • Set high expectations for success and commend your child for his strengths and talents as opposed to problems and deficits.
  • Provide opportunities for meaningful involvement at home and in the community to hold responsibilities, make decisions, speak up, be heard, and contribute one’s talents to their family and community.
  • Know Your Child’s Risk Level - Several decades of research shows that some teens are more at risk for developing a substance abuse problem than other teens. 

Talk to your child’s doctor to make sure they are screening your children to prevent risky substance use and/or behavior.  And don’t ever ignore risk factors and assume your child will be okay or just ignore a problem because you think it is a “stage” they are going through.  If you notice something, seek help.  (Good places to start looking for help are the school counselor or your child’s pediatrician)  

  • Provide healthy alternatives for coping with stress (exercise, mindfulness, sports, drug-free social activities).
  • Discuss and set family rules and consequences for breaking those rules.
  • If you are parenting alone, look for other adult role models of both genders who can be mentors for your child.
  • Do intergenerational activities with extended family and with other neighborhood adults and families.
  • Give teens an escape route.  Teach them how to get out of a bad situation.

Suggest a response they can use so they don’t feel “uncool.”

  • “I don’t want to ruin my season/get in trouble with the coach.”
  • “I have to do something with my parents really early tomorrow morning.”
  • “I’m the designated driver.”
  • “I’m not interested.”
  • “No, thanks.”
  • Most people don’t keep track of their medications
    • Monitor all medications in the home—prescription and OTC medicines  - and do not share with others.
    • Safely store medicines out of children’s reach and sight.  Consider locking them up.
    • Get rid of old or unused medicines.

Remember that you are not alone. Other caring adults in your children’s lives include coaches, childcare providers, teachers, club leaders, and neighbors.  Work with these people to give kids consistent messages about alcohol and other drug use. 

Whether television, movies, cell phones or social media, the role of media in the lives of our teens continues to grow.

Studies have found that the more young people are exposed to alcohol and tobacco advertising and marketing, the more likely they are to drink or smoke, or if already using, drinking or smoking more.

You can help your teen navigate the fast and furious media world by:

  • Improving their ability to read between the lines of advertising, recognize the influence of media messages and resist pressures from advertising and other media to smoke, drink or use drugs;
  • Encourage them to think about what ads, tv shows and movies are trying to “sell” them;
  • Help them analyze how realistic teens in their favorite tv shows and movies really are; and 
  • Build their communication skills by talking with them about what they see and how they feel about it.

Visit Too Smart To Start to learn more. 

As a parent, you know the importance of your teen's social life and that parties are a way to socialize and relax. But an unsupervised or poorly planned party can result in unwanted or even tragic consequences – Check out the Parent's Guide to Teen Parties   


Resources especially for parents



Why Do Teens Act This Way? 

A four-minute video on adolescent brain development

For ratings and reviews of books, movies, videogames and apps that include age appropriateness, violence and references to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs check out CommonSense Media  www.Commonsensemedia.org

National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information

Drugs That People Abuse  

Underage Drinking:  Myths vs. Facts

About E-Cigarettes

Spit Tobacco: A Guide for Quitting

Drug Facts – Inhalants - Provides an overview of inhalants, such as types of products commonly inhaled, how they affect the brain, other adverse effects on health, and the scope of use of inhalants in the U.S.

DXM: Make Up Your Own Mind - Draw your own conclusions about DXM/cough syrup. All information comes directly from medical research, reliable news sources, and from people who have abused DXM.

Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know  

Marijuana Abuse – Explores the latest research on marijuana, including the scope of marijuana use in the U.S., health consequences, its effects on every-day activities, available treatments.