It's a universal dread - all parents experience cascades of anxiety regarding substance use talk. As unenjoyable as it may be, ignoring the impending danger will not make it vanish into thin air. As parents, we are responsible for overcoming our fear hurdles (and awkwardness) and providing that safe space for open dialogue. The truth is, we're never truly prepared, and it's never the right time. Avoiding the conversation will only prolong the smoldering agony; convincing ourselves that our children would never (!) indulge in such autodestructive behavior will not do us favors, either. So, why wait? Peer pressure is a relentless mechanism, assuming is a nemesis. The most effective (and unobtrusive) preventive measure we can implement is surprisingly undemanding - an ongoing open discussion. These are our tips for talking to your kids about substance use. Let's talk.
The power of language is irrefutably superior to all other forms of communication. We can't hug a profound conversation out and hope for the best subliminal message outcome. We're not mind whisperers. Talking about substance use should start early in their lives, but we need to tread the vocabulary path wisely. A child's brain is a thing of wonder; it's ever-evolving. In order to get the message across in a successful manner, we need to make sure they can relate to what we're saying. So, keep it age-appropriate. Divorce and financial strains are common triggers for developing anxiety in the early stages of development, which could later induce substance abuse problems.
2. Ask questions
Although we may be tempted to perceive our kids as innocent, information-free vessels of our personal joy and (perpetual) worry, they are, in fact, the Earth's leading sponges in absorbing and storing valuable (and random) information. They just know things. More importantly, they're much more educated than we could ever, ever fathom. We were all young once; a young brain is a vast brain. By the age of 16, they are equipped with everything from future-budget concepts to drug buffets. So, ask them questions. How familiar are they with substances? Have they read about it online? Are their school friends familiar with the topic? What are their thoughts? Engage in a meaningful, open conversation.
3. Adjust your approach
Accusation will get you nowhere. The last thing we want is for our children to experience fear and anxiety around opening up. Vulnerability is key to a successful conversation. The tone of your voice is crucial here. Instead of inviting fear, judgment, and hatred, we should try approaching the subject with curiosity and understanding. Introduce the "experimenting phase" term and see if they respond to it and in what manner. Experimenting is an everyday occurrence; it's an empirical given. If you cannot tell whether they have encountered drugs or alcohol before, don't be afraid to ask them. Have an open discussion, explain the "experimenting" rules, and draw the line.
4. Be assertive
One of the most important tips for talking to your kids about substance use: Where you stand as a parent on substance use should be crystal clear from the get-go. It's a NO. Refraining from having "the talk" is also sending a message that could be interpreted as: "I guess it's okay if I give it a try." Kids need guidance. They need to hear a decisive "NO." Now, as parents, our duty is to find that golden ratio in order to get the message across without generating negative emotion. Assertiveness is, by no means, a form of aggression. Coming off as militant, tyrannical and unforgiving will not lead to them accepting the concept of prohibition. Try setting clear but fair boundaries. Moving long-distance proved to be one of the most common triggers in teenagers, as their anxiety levels peak in uncertainty. Before that fresh start, be sure to discuss this with them. It will make everything go smoother.
5. The consequence talk
The concept of lasting substance use impact is elusive when explaining it to kids. They don't understand long term. Instead of trying to scare them with ungraspable consequences somewhere down the road ("If you become a drug addict, it will - XXX"), try laying out the immediate effects list. If you're discussing cigarettes, go straight for the Achilles heel - aesthetics. Bad breath, yellow teeth, poor skin, overall loss of attractiveness. Drunk driving = goodbye, driver's license! + possible death- insert casually. (if not paralysis or immediate death, the driver's license scenario will, 100%, make them think, HARD)
6. If it already happened
If your child has experimented with substance use, pinpointing the root cause is crucial. Peer pressure, school/social status, family trouble, and other stress-inducing factors can greatly impact teenagers, further leading to clouded judgment and bad decision-making. We never indulge in autodestructive behavior out of sheer boredom; there's always a culprit. Finding out what caused the initial use can prevent "the experiment" from developing into a serious addiction problem. Explain addiction and relapse as honestly and thoroughly as you possibly can. Make sure they understand how difficult it is to lose the habit and how detrimental it can be to their mental and physical health. If you're worried about your child's possible addiction, experts from helixmove.com advise moving to a new area.
7. Seek professional help
Financial strains often bring family disruption, but they may also serve as a trigger in adolescent substance use. Experimenting with drugs or alcohol can be a sign of a developing habit. Seeking professional help in the early stages is key. A regular psychologist should be able to provide you with all the vital information, as well as refer you to a substance abuse counseling center. Intervention in the early stages is of utmost importance, as it will provide healthy coping mechanisms and tools for preventing potential addiction. If your child is struggling, be sure to stay as supportive and loving as possible throughout the process.
The last of our tips for talking to your kids about substance use: lead by example. Our children absorb and mimic our behavior. If you're smoking, consuming alcohol, or taking prescription drugs, you're not helping. Mixed signals never get the message across. Be consistent. Be their rock.
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