Worried Your Kid May be Tempted to Use Drugs?

Talking to them can cut the risk. Here's how to get the conversation started at every age-whether they're toddlers or teens

Middle School

Scenario: Your child is just starting middle school and you know that eventually, he will be offered drugs and alcohol.

What to Say: There are a lot of changes ahead of you in middle school. I know we talked about drinking and drugs when you were younger, but now is when they’re probably going to be an issue. I’m guessing you’ll at least hear about kids who are experimenting, if not find yourself some place where kids are doing stuff that is risky. I just want you to remember that I’m here for you and the best thing you can do is just talk to me about the stuff you hear or see. Don’t think there’s anything I can’t handle or that you can’t talk about with me, okay?

Scenario: You find out that kids are selling prescription drugs at your child’s school. Your child hasn’t mentioned it and you want to get the conversation about it started.

What to Say: Hey, you probably know that parents talk to each other and find things out about what’s going on at school… I heard there are kids selling pills—prescriptions that either they are taking or someone in their family takes. Have you heard about kids doing this?

Scenario: Your child’s favorite celebrity—the one he or she really looks up to—has been named in a drug scandal.

What to Say: I think it must be really difficult to live a celebrity life and stay away from that stuff. Being in the public eye puts a ton of pressure on people, and many turn to drugs because they think drugs will relieve that stress. But a lot of famous people manage to stay clean—like [name others who don’t do drugs]—and hopefully this incident is going to help [name of celebrity] straighten out his life. Of course, people make mistakes—the real measure of a person is how accountable he is when he messes up. It will be interesting to see how he turns out, won’t it?

The thing is, when a person uses drugs and alcohol—especially a kid because he’s still growing—it changes how his brain works and makes him do really stupid things. Most people who use drugs and alcohol need a lot of help to get better. I hope [name] has a good doctor and friends and family members to help him/her.

High School

Scenario: Your teen is starting high school, and you want to remind him that he doesn’t have to give in to peer pressure to drink or use drugs.

What to Say: You must be so excited about starting high school… it’s going to be a ton of fun, and we want you to have a great time. But we also know there’s going to be some pressure to start drinking, smoking pot or taking other drugs. A lot of people feel like this is just what high school kids do. But not all high school kids drink! Many don’t, which means it won’t make you weird to choose not to drink, either. You can still have a lot of fun if you don’t drink.

You’ll have a lot of decisions to make about what you want to do in high school and you might even make some mistakes. Just know that you can talk to us about anything—even if you DO make a mistake. We won’t freak out. We want you to count on us to help you make smart decisions and stay safe, okay?

Scenario: Every time you ask your teen how his day was, you get a mumbled “Whatever, it was okay” in return.

What to Say: Skip asking general questions like “How’s school?” every day. Instead, ask more specific questions on topics that interest both you and your teen (“Tell me about the pep rally yesterday.” “Are there a lot of cliques in your school?” “Fill me in on your Chemistry lab test.”) You can also use humor and even some gentle sarcasm to get the conversation flowing. Try, “Oh, what a joy it is to live with a brooding teenager!” to make your child laugh and start opening up a bit.

Scenario: Your high-schooler comes home smelling of alcohol, marijuana or cigarette smoke for the first time.

What to Say: If your child is drunk or high, it’s best to hold off until he or she is sober. “The response should be measured, quiet and serious—not yelling, shouting or overly emotional,” says parenting expert Marybeth Hicks. “Your child should realize that this isn’t just a frustrating moment like when he doesn’t do a chore you asked for; it’s very big, very important, and very serious.” Say, “I’m really upset that you’re smoking/drinking. I need to get a handle on how often this has been happening and what your experiences have been so far. I get that you’re worried about being in trouble, but the worst part of that moment is over—I know that you’re experimenting. The best thing you can do now is really be straight with me. So, for starters, tell me about what happened last night.”

Scenario: Your teen has started to hang out with kids you don’t know and dropped his old friends.

What to Say: It seems like you are hanging out with a different crowd than you have in the past. Is something up with your usual friends? Is there a problem with [old friends’ names] or are you just branching out and meeting some new kids? Tell me about your new friends. What are they like? What do they like to do? What do you like about them?

Young Adults (18+)

Scenario: Your adult child is moving to her own apartment or into a college dorm.

What to Say: I know you’re off to start your own life, but please know that I’m always here for you. I respect that you’re old enough to make your own choices, but if you ever want another perspective on things, please reach out to me. I’ll try my hardest to help you out without judging you for your decisions. Sound good? Amelia Arria, senior research scientist at the Treatment Research Institute, also suggests: There are certain things that you can count on in life and one of the things you’re going to be able to count on is me. As your parent, I am always here for you. Remember, I am your support. I’m the one who can guide you.

Scenario: After watching a movie portraying drug use together, you want to gauge your adult child’s opinion on drugs.

What to Say: I know you’re going to think that I’m over-protective or meddling, and I’m sorry. But that movie really disturbed me and I just have to ask: Is there a lot of drug use at your college/in your new town? Do the new friends that you’ve made dabble in drugs at all? How do you feel about it?

For more tools and tips to help get the conversation started, and keep it going, visit TimeToTalk.org.

Used with Permission © The Partnership at Drugfree.org. For more information, visit www.drugfree.org.

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