Parents should talk to children about drugs and alcohol often, and firmly, but spend more time listening

Talking about drugs and alcohol often, and when children are at a young age, are two of the best things parents can do to prevent substance abuse by teenagers.

“As much as parents want to be the ‘anti-drug,’ as media campaigns encourage, the tricky part is doing it effectively, without alienating their kids or essentially lighting a joint for them,” reports Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz of the Chicago Tribune.
One of the keys is to have conversations often and early on. “What you don’t want is to be having this conversation after your child has already started drinking or smoking marijuana,” said J. David Hawkins, founding director of the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington.

Nationwide, 71 percent of high school graduates have consumed alcohol, half have gotten drunk at least once, almost half have tried illegal drugs, and one-fourth have tried illegal drugs other than marijuana, the 2010 Monitoring the Future survey found. The annual poll, conducted by the University of Michigan, talked to 50,000 American teens.
Kentucky teens under 18 are among the least likely to drink alcohol of teens in the nation, the 2007-08 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed. Kentucky teens ranked 10th lowest, but were nearly on par with the national average when it came to binge drinking. (Read more)
The workshop “Guiding Good Choices” gives lessons to parents in how to deal with the issue. It advises parents to talk to their kids about drugs before adolescence, preferably when they’re in the fifth or sixth grade. Parents should talk to their kids about people in their family that may have drinking or drug problems and how that affects them. They should set a family policy on drugs or alcohol and establish consequences. And they should plan to have the conversation every year.
Teens generally obey rules until they reach the eighth grade, when it becomes unclear to them whether or not drugs and alcohol are actually bad. Alison Birnbaum, a psychotherapist and social worker based in New Canaan, Conn., said talking about drugs is only 20 percent talking, and 80 percent listening, but parents should be firm. Parents should make clear they will be disappointed if the rules are broken.
Safety First, a teen drug-prevention project, advocates “Just Say Know,” rather than “Just Say No.” It provides kids with science-based information and asks parents to be honest, if selective, about their own history with alcohol and drugs. “Parents often worry that they’re condoning drugs if they’re not condemning them, but … acknowledging the possibility that your kids might experiment sets you up to discuss what they should do if they get in trouble,” Elejalde-Ruiz writes. (Read more)
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