Every year since 1986, the National Family Partnership encourages families, schools and communities to celebrate Red Ribbon week from October 23rd to October 31st. This important week serves to spread awareness about drug and alcohol use among children and teens. Overall, youth drug and alcohol use has declined. However, it is still a very serious issue because the physical and mental health consequences of drug abuse, especially in youth, may result in problems into adulthood. Nevertheless, you can help! According to the National Family Partnership, “Children of parents who talk to their teens regularly about drugs are 42 percent less likely to use drugs than those who don’t.” Try the tips below to talk to your children about drug and alcohol use.
Educate yourself. Prior to speaking to your kids about drugs and alcohol, it’s important to educate yourself. Armed with knowledge of common drugs and consequences of their use you can serve as a source of information and credibility to answer your kids’ questions as well as convey your opinions more effectively. The National Institute on Drug Abuse and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids are two excellent resources for information.
Sit your kids down to have a conversation, but be prepared to listen. Active listening will encourage them to open up and help them see you as more than just an authority figure. Let your kids guide the conversation at first. Ask them what they know about alcohol and drugs as well as what they want to know about them. Try to have an age-appropriate conversation so they will understand.
Discuss your expectations for them surrounding drug and alcohol use, and set consequences if they do not meet them. Understanding rules, expectations and the consequences for their actions is important to help kids, especially teens, stay away from drugs and alcohol.
Explain family history. Addiction is not uncommon in our society, so there may be someone in your family who has experienced it. If so, and if it is not a secret, share the information with your kids. If you’ve used drugs or abused alcohol, it may be helpful to share your experience with your kids, especially if you are in recovery.
Get involved in your children’s lives. Get to know your kids’ friends and their friends’ parents. This can be helpful to identify those who may or may not be a good influence. It can also help you monitor situations and reduce potential harm.
Take advantage of teachable moments. Conversations about drugs and alcohol should not be limited to formal discussions. If you find yourself presented with an opportunity to have a discussion or share your thoughts with your child, take advantage of it. Teachable moments can present themselves at any time, but more common examples include: bringing information home from school; events in the news; during TV shows, movies, commercials; or Red Ribbon week.
Be a role model. If you want to your kids to behave a certain way, the best way to instill this is through your actions. If you don’t want them to use drugs, smoke or abuse alcohol, then you shouldn’t do these things, either.
Sign the Red Ribbon Week pledge and have your kids sign it, too. Signing the pledge acknowledges that both you and your children will work together to be safe, healthy and drug-free. You can find the kid pledge here and the adult pledge here.
For Health Advocate Members
If you’re a Health Advocate member with access to our EAP+Work/Life service, our Licensed Professional Counselors are available to help you and your family. They can address issues like drug or alcohol abuse, as well as help you and your kids communicate more effectively.