Start the Conversation: With Elementary School Students
This is a good time to introduce conversations about drugs, what they are, and the consequences of using them. Explain addiction and how most people who try drugs do not intend to become addicted.
GOOD DRUGS AND BAD DRUGS
Children may ask why some drugs are good for you and others aren’t. Explain that prescription medication, such as medications for ADHD, should only be taken when it is prescribed to you and used only as directed by your physician. Be sure they understand that even good medicine can make people sick if it wasn’t prescribed for them or if they take it the wrong way (like taking too much). In some cases, people can even die from taking the wrong drugs. And while some adults drink alcohol or use marijuana, these drugs are harmful to young people’s developing brains and bodies.
Be open to questions and concerns your child may have regarding alcohol and drugs. Build trust with your child so that they feel comfortable coming to you with problems at later ages.
WHEN THEY ASK
When your child asks questions, it’s often because of something they saw or heard. It’s important to know where they got their information. For example, if your child asks, “What is pot?” first ask where they learned about it and what they heard, read or saw. If your child does not start conversations about drugs and alcohol with you, take the lead. (See 5 Conversation Goals)
ENCOURAGE HEALTHY CHOICES AND SMART DECISION-MAKING
Talk to your children often about making good choices, healthy living, and smart goal setting. Define healthy choices and give examples. Let them make age-appropriate decisions and reward them when they do well. Doing so empowers them and gives them confidence in their decision-making skills.
Be Vigilant: With Middle School Students
Starting middle school (or junior high) is a big step. Your child may already be experiencing stressors that can lead to substance use. Youth this age are capable of engaging in more in-depth conversations about why people use drugs, the potential dangers (such as addiction or fatal overdose), and the consequences for the user and his or her family.
TAKE THE LEAD
It’s important for you to take the lead and engage your child in discussions about the dangers of drug and alcohol use by relating to real-life events in the news or in your own lives. Explain the importance of not riding in a car with someone who used alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs, and discuss what they can do in that situation. When you talk with your child, explore phrases they feel comfortable saying if someone offers them alcohol, vapes or other drugs, such as “That stuff is really bad for you!” or “My mom would kill me if I drank a beer!” Remember, it is important to talk but it is also important to listen.
KEEP YOUR CHILD ACTIVE
Studies show that physical activities can help prevent misuse of substances and increase the effectiveness of substance use disorder treatments. Recommended activities include sports, meditation, art, music, and yoga.
GET TO KNOW YOUR CHILD’S FRIENDS AND THEIR PARENTS
Youth want to fit in and feel normal around peers who may expose them to drug and alcohol use. So in addition to talking to your own child, get to know your child’s friends. When you give a group of friends a ride to the mall, for example, make small talk by asking about their interests, their families, what music they like, etc. Also get to know the parents of your child’s friends and share your family rules about drug and alcohol use. Tell your child often that you will come get them any time if they need to leave a place where alcohol or drugs are being used. Promise them they won’t get in trouble for calling you. If you aren’t available, find a responsible adult who will go in your place. Ask them what they would do if they saw alcohol, vapes or other substances at a party.
Set Limits: With High School Students
Your high school student wants independence and also looks to you for guidance. Along with setting reasonable limits, continue conversations about drugs and alcohol, how the media portrays them, and how your teen deals with social pressures.
ASK WHAT YOUR TEEN THINKS
Do videos and images that show drugs make them curious enough to want to try them? Do they think engaging in promiscuous behavior after drinking too much is attractive? Continue to talk to your teen often about healthy living and goal setting. Ask them what making good choices means to them. As they think about their future, remind them that substance misuse can jeopardize their dreams. It can negatively affect their chances of pursuing higher education, joining the military, or being hired for some jobs.
DISCUSS WHAT’S LEGAL
While Illinois allows people with qualifying medical conditions to use marijuana and legalized retail marijuana for people over 21, it remains federally illegal and is never legal for youth. Because the brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25, teens are particularly vulnerable to developing addiction, possible loss of up to 8 IQ points, and psychotic episodes triggered by use. See Marijuana Facts for more information. Parenting does not stop when your teen goes to college or moves out. Many colleges have programs for first-year students that cover the school’s drug and alcohol policies, programs, and services. Be sure your child knows the legal consequences and school penalties for actions like driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, underage drinking, illegal drug use, and using a fake ID.
GRANT INDEPENDENCE—WITH LOVE
Set curfews and other expectations for your teen’s behavior, establish appropriate consequences for breaking the rules, and consistently follow through with enforcement. Be open to your teen’s questions and concerns about drugs, alcohol or other sensitive issues. Explain the importance of not riding in a car with someone who used alcohol or drugs and explore what they can do in that situation. Even as teens push for independence, they need someone they love and respect to be involved. They need YOU!
CONTINUE TO PRAISE AND ENCOURAGE YOUR TEEN FOR THINGS THEY DO WELL AND POSITIVE CHOICES THEY MAKE
Knowing you are proud of them can motivate them to maintain a drug-free lifestyle and serve as a positive role model.
Source: Growing Up Drug Free, A Parent’s Guide to Prevention. U.S. Dept of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration & U.S. Dept of Education. 2021.