From “just say no” to D.A.R.E., methods and tips for parents to talk to their children about drugs and alcohol have changed over the years. Talking to your child about drugs may feel awkward, but it is critically important in order to make sure your child avoids risky behaviors. It doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. Here are some tips to help ensure your drug talk with your child helps build your relationship and enables your child to make good choices.
1) Make Plans Together
Rather than lecturing your son or daughter about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, citing statistics, and placing your child as a passive recipient of information during the discussion, try to include your child’s thoughts and feelings in your discussion. If your child is old enough to start going out in the evening with friends, ask your child how he or she expects the evening to go. Agree on some basic ground rules, like adults must be present at the home when the child comes to visit. Allow your child to negotiate the curfew within reason.
This makes your child an active participant in the rule-making, encourages responsibility, and makes it less likely that your child will resent your leadership. You are partners in making smart behaviors the easy choice. Ask your child to explain how he or she believes the evening will go, and what he or she plans to do if plans are disrupted. For example, what does he or she plan to do if the person who is supposed to be driving appears impaired? With expectations firmly established beforehand and having received some input into the expectations, your child is more likely to make good choices if problems should arise.
2) Keep It Positive
Whenever you begin a conversation about drugs, alcohol, and your expectations for your child’s behavior, begin with positive statements. Bring up good things your child does and explain how you hope that their decisions in regards to drugs and alcohol will be just as good. This is much less aggressive than leading with threats of punishment should the child make a bad choice, and it establishes that you know your child is capable of making good decisions and that you expect no less of him or her. For example, explain to your child that he or she did very well in school this quarter and has been especially reliable in doing his or her chores, and that you know that he or she will continue to impress you by making good choices at the party he or she is attending this weekend.
3) Preserve Trust and Dignity
While it is very easy to perform simple drug tests on your child’s hair or urine at home and send them to the lab for interpretation, avoid the temptation to do so unless you have very clear evidence that your child is using drugs and attempts at communication have failed. Children, especially teenagers, may interpret your making sure no drug use is occurring as distrust and suspicion. This can harm your relationship and make it less likely that your child will come to you when there is a legitimate concern about drugs or alcohol. You and your child are on the same team: don’t make the mistake of placing the two of you in opposition with false accusations, whether real or perceived.
4) Don’t Share Your Youthful Indiscretions
It’s important that you child knows you are human and have made mistakes. Your child does not need to know how many times you inhaled or how drunk you were at that party when you were 17. Specific stories about youthful indiscretion normalize this sort of behavior. You did it and survived and might even be successful; why should your child avoid the behavior? If your child asks about any history you may have of drug use or underage drinking, a simple, truthful answer, accompanied with an explanation of why that was a bad choice and what you wish you would have done differently is sufficient.
5) Make Consequences Clear
First and foremost, you are your child’s ally, and sometimes that also means being an authority figure. While your child should know that he or she can call you any time if he or she makes a bad decision, he or she should also know that there are agreed-upon consequences for his or her actions. For example, if you find that your teenage son is making a habit of drinking at parties and then calling you for a ride, while it is important that he knows that it is better to call you than to drive drunk, he must also learn that there are consequences for underage drinking. For example, he may lose his car keys and be required to pay rates reminiscent of cab fare for the ride.