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Starting conversations regarding substance use with children and teenagers can be hard. Finding the correct balance between openness and age-appropriate information is a difficult task. In this article, learn techniques on how to talk to kids about substance use. We hope to help parents and caregivers navigate these critical conversations and provide helpful insights for children of varying ages. Join us as we help to increase understanding and awareness about substance use among today’s youngsters.

Your influence as a parent significantly shapes your child’s future. Open, honest interactions are essential for developing a solid bond and promoting healthy development. Hanley Foundation understands the importance of continuing organic interactions, especially when it comes to sensitive topics like tobacco, alcohol, or drugs. It is not a one-time “drug talk,” but a continual dialogue that adapts to your child’s development. Emphasize love and compassion, balance consequences with encouragement, and use everyday moments to teach. So let’s dive into how to talk to kids about substance use.

Talk Early, Talk Often, Talk Age-Appropriate

Talking to Pre-Schoolers

It is critical to build the groundwork for healthy habits and discuss substance use in age-appropriate ways during the preschool years (2-4 years old). Explain the necessity of vitamins for growth in scenarios such as daily vitamin intake while underlining the risks of taking someone else’s vitamins or medications. Address the curiosity regarding pharmaceutical bottles by emphasizing the importance of seeking advice from a parent or doctor. When confronted with smoking or vaping, explain that adults always have decisions to make, but some decisions, such as smoking, can be dangerous. Some prevention methods include promoting self-care, rewarding decision-making abilities, teaching about toxic substances, and keeping them out of reach, and turning frustrations into learning opportunities.

Talking to Early Elementary Ages

Children in the early elementary years (ages 5-8) seek family connections while exploring their individuality. Address issues such as a child’s interest in medications in the medicine cabinet to reinforce the importance of health and avoiding substance hazards. Stress that just because something is present doesn’t imply it’s safe and encourage kids to decline substances offered by friends. Encourage their individual style, choices, and decision-making abilities. Tips for prevention at this age include examining substance messaging in the media, emphasizing repercussions, clarifying medicinal and criminal uses, establishing clear rules, supporting good problem-solving, and understanding the effects of peers. Get to know your child’s peers and their parents to strengthen family relationships and communication.

Talking to Preteens (Ages 9-12)

Substance Abuse in the Classroom:
Recognize that your preteen child may encounter substances once they approach middle school. Reiterate the family’s anti-drug attitude and encourage open communication.

Prescription Drug Distribution at School:
Discuss various scenarios to address the likelihood of prescription medication sales at school. Practice replies and teach your child to use you as an excuse to avoid potentially dangerous and even deadly situations.

Celebrity Drug Abuse:
Discuss a celebrity’s drug controversy, focusing on the pressures of popularity and the dangers of substance use. Emphasize the importance of support and professional assistance for those who have an addiction.

Preteen Prevention Tips

Establish Clear Ground Rules
Ensure your child understands and follows the family rules about substance use and reinforce the consequences of rule infractions.

Encourage a Positive Self-Image
Positive affirmations regarding your child’s personality, effort, creativity, and kindness can help alleviate insecurities by emphasizing personal progress rather than specific achievements.

Involvement of Parents in Friendship
Maintain communication with your child’s friends and their parents to ensure shared ideals regarding supervision and substance use prevention.

Distinguishing Between Reality and Fantasy
Watch shows or movies with your child and engage in discussions to help them differentiate between reality and imagination, including the impact of commercial messaging.

Talking to Teenagers About Substance Use (Ages 13-18)

Observing Children Vaping
Express concern about observing children vape, underlining the risks. Encourage open communication about your child’s beliefs and experiences and set firm boundaries against vaping due to health issues and addiction dangers.

Peer Pressure and the High School Transition
Remind your teen about making good decisions in the face of peer pressure in high school. Recognize the possibility of peer pressure to vape, drink, or use substances, underlining the abnormality of such activities. Assure your child of your support and desire to assist them in overcoming obstacles.

Friendship Transitions
Discuss your teen’s shift in friendships, expressing interest in the change. Inquire about their previous pals, the reasons for the relocation, and new acquaintances. To better comprehend the issue, encourage transparency and offer to meet their new friends.

The Smell of Alcohol or Cigarettes
If your child smells of alcohol or cigarette smoke, approach them privately, express disappointment and concern, emphasizing the gravity of the issue. Encourage honesty by inquiring about the events that led to the incident and their motivation for engaging in such behavior.

Teen Prevention Tips

Make Clear Rules and Consequences
Ensure your teen understands and follows the family’s substance-use guidelines, emphasizing enforceable consequences. Make your repercussions sensible, brief, and consistent.

Express Disapproval and Talk About Your Feelings
Disapprove of all substance usage and express your thoughts through numerous channels such as school messages, commercials, or media portrayals. Encourage open-ended conversations and active listening.

Highlight Positivity and Prospects for the Future
Share complimentary remarks about your teen’s qualities and future possibilities, underlining the advantages of a healthy and safe lifestyle.

Participate in Daily Ups and Downs
Show an interest in your teen’s daily activities by asking about their highs and lows. To avoid surprises, build trust, maintain open communication, and convey strong opinions about substances.

Talking to Young Adult Children (Ages 19-25)

As your adolescent child enters adulthood, leading them toward a good experience requires establishing a balance between support and independence. Maintain an open line of communication in situations such as moving into their own house or watching a movie depicting drug usage. Respect their autonomy while providing your viewpoint when necessary. Fostering communication, being a dependable resource, remaining alert about mental health, and addressing the prevalence and hazards of various substances on college campuses while emphasizing the appropriate use of prescription pharmaceuticals are some tips for young adults.

About Hanley Foundation

Hanley Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to substance use prevention, advocacy, recovery support, and access to quality treatment. With a legacy built on compassion and commitment, Hanley continues to expand its support to students, individuals, families, and communities affected by substance use disorders.