The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that medical providers screen for drug use in children starting at 9 years of age. Despite this, physicians, parents and mentors often struggle with having critical conversations about drug use with children and teens. Some may even delay starting these conversations or not have them at all.
Tobacco , Alcohol, cannabis are the most commonly used drugs by teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 12th grade, approximately two-thirds of students will have tried alcohol. About half of those in grades 9-12 will use cannabis, while four in 10 will have tried cigarettes. Close to two in 10 high school seniors report abusing a prescription medicine.
Reading articles like this one is a great way to prepare for this talk! Remember, you don’t have to be an expert to talk to your kids about drugs. It might be useful to look up some recent information so you are well informed, and this could be especially important if you are concerned about a particular drug. You could also ask your doctor for some pointers.
This is probably the single most important point. More often than not, a child or teen will not initiate the conversation on drug use. The adult should introduce the topic of drug use and create an environment in which the child or teen feels safe. Many young people use drugs to self-medicate feelings of sadness, worry or stress. Ask your child how they are doing emotionally.
Allow the child/teen to express his or her views on drug use and to share experiences and beliefs. Voice concern, but use supportive and non-confrontational terms (“I’m worried about you because I care about you”). Allow the child/teen to tell his or her personal story about drug use. It’s natural for a parent to have strong reactions if a child does admit to drug use, but you will likely learn mor if you adopt a non-judgmental and open-minded stance.
The first conversation on drug use should never be the last. By creating a supportive and comfortable environment, future conversations may be more in-depth and feel more natural. Try to have these conversations during everyday interactions so that the child/teen will feel comfortable participating.
Be mindful of the TV shows and movies your kids and teens are watching, as many tend to glorify drug use. Bring this up as a talking point in your conversations. Also, remember that many kids and teens use social media on a daily basis and will often see posts by friends, peers and celebrities who use drugs. Several research studies have found that teens who use social media are more likely to use tobacco, alcohol and cannabis than those who don’t. Encourage your child or teen to talk about his or her experiences with drug use on social media.
Children and teens change constantly as new experiences arise. Do not assume their views on drugs will stay the same in the future. Changes in schools, friends or other settings will often trigger a child or teen to reassess his or her views on drugs.