Can We Talk? The Dos and Don’ts of Having “The Talk” With Your Kids

Family eating pasta with sauce

Written by CASAColumbia

During tonight’s National Night of Conversation, parents around the country are preparing for one of the more difficult conversations they’ll have with their children over dinner: alcohol and drug use. Research tells us that teens who are educated about the risks of drugs from their parents are less likely to use. In fact, most teens credit conversations with Mom and Dad as their main reason for deciding not to do drugs.

But having those conversations can be challenging as many parents are not sure what to say, or when and how to say it. As you embark on your conversation, keep these four things in mind:  

  • DO start conversations early – well before the teen years. Talking to your kids about alcohol and drug use shouldn’t wait until they reach their teen years. Conversations with younger children may focus on examples of healthy behaviors. As children get older, these conversations should focus more on what your children are seeing and experiencing in social settings.
  • DO ask thoughtful questions. Because their brains are still developing, teens don’t judge risks and consequences the way adults do. Most teenagers understand the dangers of substance use, but they tend to underestimate those dangers when weighing the pros and cons. One way to talk about their perceptions of drug use is to ask about what they see on TV, in movies, or on the Internet. Questions like “How do you think substance use is portrayed?” and “How realistic is it?” can spark up a meaningful dialogue.
  • DO set some ground rules for your teen. We recommend setting the “No substance use before age 21” rule, and providing clear reasons for why you don’t want your teen to smoke, drink, or use drugs. Some factors may include:
  1. Drugs are dangerous for young people and particularly risky because their brains are still developing;
  2. Drugs do not mix well with school, sports, and other teenage activities; and
  3. It is illegal for minors to drink, smoke, or use drugs
  • DON’T forget that conversation is a two-way street. The goal is not to lecture but to get your child talking, and actively listen when they do. Good listening means paying attention without interrupting, not reacting defensively or in anger. If your children believe that their feelings make sense to you, and that you legitimately understand them, they will be more likely to communicate openly with you.

Finally, it is important to listen carefully to your kids’ ideas about why substance use is, or is not, risky – they may surprise you.

To learn more, you can view the “How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid” presentation here, which offers 10 facets of parental engagement for talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol.