How to Talk to Kids about the Dangers of Drug Use

By Jamie Belcher, CHES, OCPC, AOD Community Prevention Specialist I

“True prevention is not waiting for bad things to happen, it’s preventing things from happening in the first place.”

- Don McPherson

You’re sitting in the living room with your family watching the local news. The newscaster starts talking about the opioid epidemic and how more people are dying from heroin overdoses. Your child looks at you and asks, “What is heroin and why do people keep dying from it?”

You freeze and think, “Oh no. What do I say? How do I explain this? What if I don’t know all the answers? Are they too young for me to answer the question?” At this point, you have a few options. You can either change the subject, ignore the question, or answer in a truthful, age-appropriate manner. The first two choices are the easy way out. I urge you to choose the third option.  

Your child is going to get information about alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs from somewhere. This could be information from friends, social media, the internet, peers at school and on the bus, the neighbor down the street, and the list could go on and on. Not all of these sources of information are credible. It is your job as a parent to make sure your child gets the correct facts and information about the true dangers of drug use, alcohol abuse, and tobacco use.

Many parents believe that talking to their children about the dangers of using alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs will not make a difference in whether or not the child chooses to use these substances. But research shows that children whose parents talk to them about drugs are up to 50 percent less likely to use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

Having these conversations can be scary and, if we’re being honest, awkward. Often, parents have doubts about their knowledge about drugs, fear that the child will ask questions they don’t know how to answer, or that they will not listen. Don’t let those doubts stop you from having these important conversations with your child.

As stated above, research about the dangers of drug use proves they are listening!

Preparing for the Conversation

  • Do your research. Use credible resources like National Institute on Drug Abuse, Foundation for a Drug Free World, Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, Generation Rx, and the Drug Enforcement Administration to gather information.
  • If there is a specific topic you want to address, print out the information and have it available to reference as needed.
  • Write down any questions you have for your child or any topics you would like to talk about.
  • Gather any evidence that leads you to believe your child is using alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.
  • You can sign up for the Know! Parent Tips Newsletter that is provided by Start Talking Initiative through the State of Ohio. This twice monthly email will keep you current with drug facts, drug trends, and tips on how to keep the conversation going. To sign up click here.

Having the Conversation

  • Stay calm.
  • Give age appropriate information. It is never too young to start the conversation about the dangers of drug use. For tips on age appropriate conversations click here.
  • Use your resources and technology to your advantage. Visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. It has interactive games, information, activities, and resources for teens, parents, and teachers. Explore the website together.
  • Do not exaggerate the facts or show “worst case scenario” pictures. Research proves scare tactics don’t work. Kids are smart. If they think you are exaggerating the facts or lying about the consequences, they won’t trust you as much to be their resource for information.
  • Be honest. If you don’t know, it’s OK to say you don’t know. Look up the information together or do your research and then go back to answer the question.  
  • Use teachable moments. These are everyday situations where you can bring up the topic and talk about it. For example, if you and your child are watching a character on a TV show use drugs that seemingly doesn’t have consequences for their use. Ask questions such as, “This character is using drugs and doesn’t seem to have any consequences from doing it. Do you think this is real life? What kind of consequences might happen?” Maybe they mention they know someone who is choosing to use a substance. You can ask a question such as, “Why do you think they are using?” “Is that a healthy choice?” or “Do you think the choices they are making will help them reach their goals in life? Why or Why not?”  
  • Use this time as an opportunity to role play saying no if they are ever offered to use alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.  Allow them to come up with the scenarios and how they would respond.  

Please remember these are not one time conversations. These are conversations about the dangers of drug use that should occur on a regular basis. The majority of teens are making positive choices and are choosing to be alcohol, tobacco, and other drug free. Help your child be part of the majority. 

Talk. They’re listening.

Sources:

(2018). Retrieved July 10, 2018, from http://starttalking.ohio.gov/Portals/0/images/Logos-Printable/Start-Talking-crew-poster.pdf

(2018) Retrieved July, 11, 2018 from Ohio Youth-led Prevention Network, https://preventionactionalliance.org/connect/ohio-youth-led-prevention-network/

Jamie L. Belcher is a Community Prevention Specialist at Firelands Counseling and Recovery Services of Ottawa County. Jamie is an Ohio Certified Prevention Consultant and a Certified Health Education Specialist. Jamie has a Bachelor’s Degree in Community Health from the University of Cincinnati. She has been involved in drug prevention efforts since she was in middle school and has been working in the field of prevention since September 2011.