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How to Talk to Your Children about Drugs and Alcohol

Drugs and alcohol use can affect any family.  Having honest conversations and being actively involved in your children's lives are the best preventative measures you can take to help keep them safe.

According to Bridget Barnes, Boys Town Common Sense Parenting® expert, today's kids start experimenting with drugs and alcohol at an early age. In fact, the national average ages that children are exposed or experiment with marijuana is age 14 and for alcohol, it drops to age 12. “Talking to your children about drugs and alcohol should be an ongoing conversation. It's best to have an open-door policy, where your kids feel comfortable talking to you about whatever is on their minds," said Barnes. 

Using the KISS technique is a great way to approach the topic of drugs and alcohol. Here's how that works:

  • K – Keep all your conversation age-appropriate.
  • I – Identify your family's rules and the reasons for them. Be honest, straight-forward and firm, and let your child know that they are responsible for following the rules.
  • S – Speak with your children and not at them. Avoid lecturing and be consistent regarding your position on the use of drugs and alcohol.
  • S – Safe Place and Support – make sure your children know that they can always talk to you and that you will not judge them​

If your child doesn't feel comfortable talking to you, find a fail-safe alternative by asking another trusted adult to have a conversation with them. Always make sure that this outside person leads your child back to you and involves you in the ongoing conversation. It's also very important that your kids understand the consequences of substance abuse. One effective way is to have your child do some research to personally find out the facts about drug use and what it can do to them.

When talking with your kids, remember that fear tactics don't work and lecturing on the evils of substance abuse will often backfire and cause your child to withdraw and avoid you. It's far more effective to refrain from getting too worked up and model the behavior you want to see in your kids. “Your kids are always watching you, so lead by example," said Barnes.

If you have confirmed that your child is actively involved in substance abuse, face it head on and take responsibility immediately by getting them the help that they need. Boys Town offers many valuable resources including the Boys Town National Hotline® at (800-448-3000), a 24/7 crisis line, staffed by specially trained Crisis Counselors who listen, provide support and offer additional resources nationwide when needed.  In addition, Your Life Your Voice also provides tips and tools to assist in dealing with the many difficult issues that teens face. Text VOICE to 20121 or visit