Have Open Conversations

Talking to your kids about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs doesn't have to be awkward. One long, uncomfortable conversation won’t necessarily keep your kids healthy and safe. Instead, having lots of short conversations is the best way to keep communicating without it feeling like a struggle or a nuisance. In fact, the more short talks you have, the easier it gets, especially when it comes to giving your children the facts and helping them make healthy decisions.

How to Talk About Substance Use with Your Child or Teen

Start Early

Although it may seem early, research shows that children as young as 9 are starting to form opinions on alcohol and drug use. But you can make a difference. More than 80% of kids ages 10 to 18 say their parents are the leading influence in their decisions and attitudes toward alcohol and other drugs. Start open conversations early to create a good foundation for future behaviors and decision making.

Learn more about why you should talk with your child about alcohol and other drugs.

In 2021, more than 497,000 kids and teens aged 12 to 17 reported misusing prescription painkillers.

3 out of 5 people who start using marijuana are under the age of 21.

About 2,380 kids as young as 12 try marijuana each day.

Be Prepared

Your child will have questions. Make sure you know the facts about whatever you’re talking about so you can be a trustworthy source of information. If children and teens don’t get the right information from you, they could possibly get misinformation somewhere else, like from their friends, the internet or social media.

When your child asks tough questions, here are some honest and helpful answers.

Kids Will Ask Questions. Get the Facts.

You can’t have a meaningful or impactful conversation with your children if you’re not ready. Use these sources to learn what you need to know to provide honest, accurate information and answer questions.

Talk Honestly & Listen Carefully

Speak to your child about drugs and alcohol from a place of honesty and care. Listen without interrupting. This will help them feel respected and know that their voice matters. Kids and teens are more likely to truly hear what you say when you show that you’re interested in their success and well-being. Remember that every conversation should be a two-way street. The goal is to create an open channel of communication, so your child feels safe coming to you for guidance at any time.

Have conversation goals when talking about alcohol and other drugs.

23% of South Carolina high school students say they usually consumed liquor in the past 30 days, while over 14% reported consuming beer.

Almost 23% of high school students in South Carolina say it's easy to obtain prescription pain killers, and over 10% say it's easy to obtain heroin or fentanyl. Over 16% of high school students in the Palmetto State have used marijuana, and 42% say it's easy to get marijuana.

Share Your Expectations

Reinforce your strong disapproval of underage drinking and misuse of drugs. Set clearly defined rules and consequences for breaking those rules. Kids and teens respond better to boundaries and expectations that they know come from a place of love rather than from a desire to control them, so make sure to let your child know that you’re looking out for their health, happiness and success. 

Be the Example They Need

Children watch their parents’ behavior and learn how to interact with others, care for themselves and overcome challenges. Be a good role model by demonstrating healthy coping methods and prioritizing your own wellness. Keep alcohol and prescription medication where your kids can’t access them and properly dispose of all medications that are expired, unused or no longer needed.

Parent with Positivity

Focus more on rewarding positive efforts than on punishing negative outcomes. Reward and encourage your child whenever they engage in good decision-making. It’s normal for kids and teens to want to take risks and find new ways to express themselves, but you can guide them toward safe and healthy ways to do so.

Develop an Exit Strategy

When it comes to vaping and smoking, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs, including pills, peer pressure can be overwhelming. Helping your children develop an exit plan can save them from social awkwardness when finding themselves in a difficult situation or having to make the right decision. It can be as easy as creating and texting a word or phrase.

Short and Sweet

It’s okay not to cover everything in one sitting. Aim for short, frequent talks and check in with your child regularly. Brainstorm “exit plans” together so they’re ready to make good decisions when it matters most. As they get older, your child’s attitudes, friend groups and stressors will change, so it’s important to keep these conversations going throughout their teen and young adult years too.

Learn more about why short conversations make a big difference.

Over 23% of South Carolina high school students have smoked e-cigarettes or used vape pens.

In 2021, 5.9 million youth ages 12 to 20 reported drinking alcohol beyond “just a few sips” in the past month.

Try these conversation starters

  • Get outside your home / Children and teens are more likely to talk about concerns, situations they’ve been in and emotions while they’re doing something low key and fun. Even though they may like to have friends around, it’s important to spend time alone with your kids, taking little adventures or starting projects. So, try hiking, biking, visiting a park, going out for ice cream or something totally new.
  • Sharing how you make decisions / When having a conversation, you can start by sharing: How you deal with difficult work or social situations. “Today at work, my boss asked me to do something I was uncomfortable with so I… (explain how you resolved it). Then ask, “How do you approach uncomfortable decisions at school? Like what if someone approached you with some pills or a vape pen? What would you do?”
  • Take advantage of substances being in the news / You could start by saying something like, “I saw an interesting story about how dangerous vaping is.” Then you could follow up with, “Do you know much about vaping? Do you think kids at your school are doing that? What would you do if someone offered you a vape?”
  • Keep it light / We all know kids and teens hate a lecture. Try using a little humor to start conversations or to tell stories about situations. “The funniest thing/most embarrassing thing happened…” Then use that situation to ask your kids about how they deal with awkward situations at school or in other social settings.
  • Let your kids ask questions and give their opinions / It doesn’t always need to be about alcohol and other drugs or vaping. Building a foundation on which you can strengthen your relationship and trust is important.
  • Talk about how to connect with others / Talking about common ground in relationships while celebrating differences can make feelings of isolation disappear and increase connection.

Fun, family conversation starters

Here are some age-appropriate activities you can do with your child that can help make having conversations easier, and even a little fun.

How to keep conversations going

Besides asking open-ended questions that get responses other than yes or no, try using some of these phrases to extend conversations.

  • “What do you think?”
  • “That’s helpful. Tell me more.”
  • “That’s interesting. Keep going.”
  • “Can you be more specific?”
  • “Why is that important to you?”
  • “Where did you learn about that?”
  • “What else can I do to help?”