The short answer to this question is… you can start laying the groundwork as soon as your child can talk and comprehend. One father trained his two-year-old daughter to cover her face whenever she was confronted with a cigarette smoker in public.
According to Kidshealth.org, age eight to twelve is a more realistic time frame to talk to your kid(s) about drugs. One caveat is to keep the message age-appropriate to avoid overwhelming your child with information.
Preschool to Age 7
This is the time when you should be using small opportunities to discuss drug or alcohol use. For example, if your child has to take prescription medication you can discuss the benefits of the drug and why it’s important to use drugs responsibly. Always be honest with your child. This discussion will set the tone for future discussions. When you’re talking about drugs or alcohol, make sure you use simple terms that your child will understand. Be specific about how drugs affect people. Tell your kids that drugs can have very negative long-term consequences.
Ages 8 to 13
Children in this age bracket are usually still willing to talk to their parents openly about a difficult subject. You can start a conversation by asking your child what he or she thinks about drugs or alcohol. Asking the question in a nonjudgmental way will tell your child that it’s okay to discuss sensitive subjects with Mom or Dad. You can use news topics, like the recent heroin epidemic, to start a discussion about heroin and why it’s so addictive. Keep the lines of communication open and tell your children it’s ok to ask you any question about drugs or alcohol.
Ages 13 to 17
Teenagers in this age bracket will most likely know someone who has tried drugs or alcohol. They may have even tried these substances themselves. Make sure your children know and understand the rules that you have set in place. Many teenagers will get their driver’s license at 16 or 17 years old. Parents should talk about the dangers and consequences of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Make sure your children know they can call you any time, no questions asked, if the person responsible for driving is inebriated.
Ages 18 and Up
Just because your child is legally an adult doesn’t mean your job is over! Make sure your son or daughter is prepared to make good choices entering the adult world. For many young adults, college is the first time they’re away from the influence of their parents. Some will choose to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Make sure that your son or daughter knows that he or she can always come to you with any questions or concerns.
Sarah Samuels works in the outreach department of Inspirations for Youth, one of the nation’s leading Teen Drug Rehab. She spends her time talking to the teens about their inspirational stories of recovery.
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