Talking to our kids about drugs and alcohol can feel difficult and make parents and guardians feel uneasy. It can be tough to find the right time to have these talks with our children. Thankfully, there are resources available that can help parents/guardians feel more comfortable having conversations about drugs and alcohol at any age.
Experts suggest that we start specific conversations about the concerns or outcomes of alcohol or cannabis use when our kids are 7 or 8 years old. Having small casual chats to discuss what they see on TV or in video games can make a big difference. When parents and guardians make these conversations seem normal, it is easier to continue talking about drugs and alcohol as children grow. The Wisconsin Department of Health has resources available at smalltalkswi.org that focus on age appropriate questions and role modeling to make this easier for adults.
When our kids are still in elementary school, we can talk to them about what they see and hear in the media they consume, within neighborhoods, or their families. As they grow and become more exposed to substances through friends, media, and society, the conversations may become more complex. The Parent UP campaign, developed by the Vermont Department of Health, has helpful ideas on how to start discussions about alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs. The site also has resources on how to create boundaries and reasonable expectations about substance use depending on parenting style. Visit parentupvt.org for checklists, conversation starters, and local statistics of teen substance use.
A good opportunity might be to ask youth their thoughts about the role alcohol has played during the COVID-19 pandemic. With many states creating new policies about take-out and to-go alcoholic beverages, youth access to alcohol has grown. What may be even more important is asking our kids what they see and think about substance use and then listening. Understanding their knowledge and attitudes can give adults an idea of how to address the topic with the youth in their life.
Asking questions and listening to what kids have to say is helpful when addressing expectations around alcohol and drug use. Studies show that one of the most powerful influences in our children’s lives is parents and caring adults. Having these small talks early and often can make a big difference in their choices as they grow.
For more ideas and support on how to start a conversation about drugs or alcohol with a child of any age visit:
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