Talk to your kids

Much of this text came from the guide, “Keeping your Kids Drug-Free”. Four sections give tips on talking to your kids. You can scroll down to read all of them, or click on the one you’re most interested in.

Ask questions

Be more involved

“You did drugs, Why can't I?”

Walk the walk

Ask Questions

Teachable moments. Maintaining a warm bond with your teenage child can take effort, a lot of effort sometimes, so when you ask questions, think about the best time, place and tone of voice. With some kids, the casual, indirect approach works best, such as asking general questions while driving in the car or watching TV. Take care to remember their friends' names, teachers, coaches, etc. so you can inquire about them at another time. If you don't show that you’re listening to them, why would they talk to you next time?

Catch your child being good, notice strengths, reserve judgment when at all possible, and be sure that most of your conversations stay positive.

Keep close track of daily activities. Know where your child is when he or she is away from home. With cell phones, it's easy for teens to stay in touch. Require that they call if they're going to be late. Make a list of activities for the week and put it on the fridge, or keep a calendar in a common place so everyone knows one another's schedules. By keeping track of their activities and getting to know their friends, you'll give the clear message that you support positive choices and healthy lifestyles.

Ask where your teens are going. “It's not pestering, it's parenting,” says the slogan by Parents: The Anti-Drug. If your teen refuses, either actively or passively, to answer questions about their whereabouts, try humor or gentle insistence. You can say, “This is the way our family works – you're growing up but I'm still your parent, and I have to know where you are. It's not a matter of trust, I'm just doing my job. And I worry when I don't know where you are.”

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Be More Involved

Adolescents must separate from their parents and establish themselves as distinct individuals. In doing this, they often “try on” behaviors that contradict their parents’ expectations or values – which can be both exciting and frightening to them. This is the task of adolescence. But the task of parents is to build open and trusting relationships and to stay involved even as teens seek distance and declare their independence.

Eat meals together as often as you can. Studies show that kids whose families eat together at least 5 times a week are less likely to be involved with drugs or alcohol. And ask your children to help with cooking, cleaning, shopping. The more they're involved, the stronger the family connections.

Try to be home after school. The danger zone for drug use is between 3 and 6 pm, because in many homes there's no adult supervision during those hours. Arrange flex time at work if possible, or have a relative or neighbor help out. Alternatively, look for schools and community programs that have after-school homework clubs or other extracurricular programs with adult supervision.

Make your rules clear and follow them. Kids often say that their parents don't talk to them about drugs even though parents report that they do. Don't leave your kids guessing. Tell them very clearly that you don't want them using substances – no tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, anything. This message needs repeating often, not just once. As your teen is heading out for a party, you can ask: “If you see alcohol or other drugs there, what are you going to do? I can pick you up any time, just call me.”

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“You did drugs, Why can't I?”

Your teen asks that question you dread: “Did you ever do drugs?” Or the question may come as a challenge, such as

“You drink alcohol, so what's the big deal?” or

“You drink coffee and take medications, they're legal drugs but what's really the difference?”

If you have done illegal drugs in the past, you can tell the truth without the details or guilt. After all, everyone, as some point, has done something they wish they hadn't. The issue isn't your past; it's your teen's future. Look at these questions as an opportunity to discuss something that is very important.

Answers suggested by experts:

“We didn't know as much then as we do now about all the bad things that can happen when you smoke marijuana or use alcohol when you’re still growing. Your brain is like a sponge now, designed for learning a lot of stuff, but that makes it more open to developing addiction problems. Kids who start drinking (or smoking tobacco) when they're teenagers are much more likely to develop problems with being addicted later in life.”

“I was bored and wanted to take some risks, but after a while I found out that drugs got in the way of doing well in school, driving, getting a job. There were better things I had to do with my life.”

“Back when I was young, marijuana was different, not nearly so strong as it is now. And we didn't binge drink the way some kids do. Experimenting today has more dangers, and I'll do everything I can to help keep you away from drug use.”

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Walk the Walk

It's easy to think that kids don’t watch what we do. But statistics tell us that parents and their behavior have a huge impact on kids. Think about upcoming family get-togethers and social events. Are there situations where alcohol can be reduced or eliminated? If you discuss it as a family, your children will see how conscious choices can be made. Make a decision on what's best for everyone, not necessarily on what's always been done.

And consider changing your own drinking habits, at least during this period when your teens are watching you carefully. If you choose to drink alcohol, teach and model moderation.

Guidelines for low-risk drinking are no more than one standard drink a day for women, and no more than two drinks a day for men. The key is to limit your alcohol intake so that you do not put yourself and others at risk. Be especially aware of the example you show your children about drinking and driving.

Think about how much alcohol is kept in your home, and monitor your supply. Some experts recommend not storing hard liquor or large quantities of beer or wine during your child's teenage years. (Primary source: FACE,

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