By Cheryl Thomas
Parent Educator, Prevention Network
As kids get older and alcohol and other drugs enter the picture, parents are faced with a unique set of challenges. It can be daunting to talk with your children about drinking and drug use, but well worth the effort. In fact, research has shown that kids who have conversations with their parents to learn about the dangers of alcohol and other drug use are 50 percent less likely to use these substances than those who don’t have such conversations.
It’s not so much about “the big talk,” but about being there for them when the issues come up – on TV, at the movies, on the radio, about celebrities or sports figures or about their friends. Don’t miss an opportunity to teach your kids. You have more influence over your kids’ attitudes and decisions about substance use than you think. Children go through many different stages as they grow up and what’s appropriate to tell an 18-year-old and a 9-year-old can vary quite a bit. Yet, it’s never too early to begin the conversation.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence provides some basic guidelines to assist you:
Listen before you talk. As parents we are sometimes so anxious to share our wisdom – or our opinion – that we don’t take the time to listen. For kids, knowing that we are really listening is the most important thing we can do to help.
Ask open-ended questions. Talk to your child regularly – about their feelings, their friends, their activities. As much as you can, and sometimes it’s not easy, try to avoid questions that have a simple “yes” or “no” answer.
Be involved. Get to know your child’s friends and educate your child about the importance of maintaining good health – psychological, emotional and physical.
Set expectations, limits and consequences. Make it clear that you do not want your child drinking or using drugs and that you trust them not to. Talk about possible consequences, both legal and medical, and be clear about what you will do if the rules are broken.
Be honest and open. Care about what your child is going through as they face and make decisions that will affect their lives now and for the future.
Be positive. Many parents have discovered that talking about these issues with their children has built bridges rather than walls between them and have proudly watched those children learn to make healthy, mature decisions on their own.
Family history. Both research and personal experience have clearly documented that addiction is a chronic, progressive disease that can be linked to family history and genetics. So, if you have a family history of problems with alcohol or other drugs, be matter of fact about it, as you would any other chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer.
For more information visit ncadd.org or contact Prevention Network at 471-1359 or preventionnetworkcny.org.