epress blog: talk to your teen

New Year, New You(th)

January 29, 2024

A guest blog by Hailey Kanipe, MPH, CPS, ICPS, Prevention Specialist.

Talking to youth about substance misuse

As the world grows and technology advances, youth learn about “adult subjects” earlier than ever. Every October, LRADAC’s Prevention team goes into local schools during Red Ribbon Week to talk to students about the dangers of substance misuse. For elementary students, we hold puppet shows to discuss the effects of smoking on the body. For middle and high school students, we often talk about vaping, marijuana, alcohol, and prescription drug misuse. Regardless of the subject, it is inevitable that every year, a kindergarten or first-grade student will raise their tiny hand at one of our puppet shows to ask a question about an illicit drug that they’ve heard of. Each time, I am reminded of just how important it is to talk to children about substance misuse early. Kids are extremely observant and often listen and notice things whether we know it or not. They pick up on a lot of adult conversations and often share those conversations with other kids at school. Unfortunately, however, the information they share is not always correct, which is why it is so important for parents to have conversations with (even the littlest) children about substance misuse.

This January, as we all start off 2024, consider making it a priority to have conversations with your children about substance misuse. Below, you will find twelve focus points (one for each month of the year) to help guide conversations with your children about difficult subjects, including substance misuse. I hope that these focus points and resources enhance your conversations with the youth in your life and ultimately bring you closer to your children in 2024!

The South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS) recently launched a new ad campaign called “Open Conversations.” This campaign, along with its resource website, encourages and equips parents to have open conversations with youth about substance misuse. For additional information and resources, visit https://www.daodas.sc.gov/conversations/.

Focus Points

  1. Start talking early!

Kids know more than you think they do! Not sure how to begin talking to your elementary school student about drugs? Start with talking to them about friendship, what it means to have a good friend, and what good friends do and do not do. Then, move into conversations about the difference between right and wrong and what happens when someone does something they aren’t supposed to do. Feel how much your child knows and remind them they can always talk to you about anything.

  1. Have a conversation, not a confrontation.

Talking about difficult subjects like substance misuse can be challenging, especially with teens. Remind your child that you just want to talk to them and aren’t accusing them of anything. Make sure your tone and posture indicate that you are relaxed and just want to chat.

  1. It’s all about timing.

First and foremost, don’t wait until there’s an issue to start talking! Second, make sure that before you start talking, you are in a good mood and have plenty of time to sit and listen. You never know when a child might decide to open up about something, so you want to make sure that when they do, you have plenty of time to listen to them and aren’t preoccupied with needing to be somewhere else.

  1. Location, location, location!

There is a right time and place to talk! Make sure that you have a conversation in a safe and private space, and only include family members or friends who need to listen and contribute to the conversation. Children won’t open up if they feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.

  1. Share YOUR experiences.

If your child has made a bad decision that you can relate to, share your experience. How did you get past the situation? What did you learn? Who did you rely on for advice and guidance? Sharing your experiences can help your child feel understood and as if they are not alone in what they are going through.

  1. Don’t rule the conversation.

We all sometimes get excited about a conversation, but before we know it, we might begin to rule the conversation by talking too much, talking over others, or steering the conversation away from others and toward ourselves. Practice good listening skills when talking to youth and allow them to talk. You never know what they might say!

  1. Establish a physical connection.

If your child needs comfort in the course of your conversation, reach out and put your hand on their shoulder to let them know you are there for them. After the conversation is over, hug them and let them know you are always available to talk. A physical connection can be very important to help establish trust and openness!

  1. Teach your kids to STOP.

When it comes to saying “NO” to drugs, teach your kids the STOP acronym. “S” stands for “Say ‘NO’ firmly,” “T” stands for “Tell the person not to ask you again,” “O” stands for “Offer other alternatives (e.g., play basketball, video games, etc.),” and “P” stands for “Promptly leave.” Remind your child that they can walk away any time they feel uncomfortable. Afterward, they should find a trusted adult for help.

  1. It’s okay! You can ask questions.

Parents have a hard job! They are expected to know what their children are doing even when they aren’t always in the same places at the same time. So, how can you figure out what your children know, what they are doing, and who they are hanging out with? The best way is to ask questions! It may be uncomfortable to ask questions (and you may meet some resistance from your children), but asking questions shows your children that you care about their safety. The more often you ask questions, the more your children will get used to being asked!

  1. Get comfortable with silence.

Kids are notorious for getting silent during conversations, especially tough ones. Their silence could indicate a number of things – boredom or annoyance with the conversation, sadness, anger, or that they are thinking of what you just said and deciding how to respond. We often get frustrated with others when we don’t get an immediate response during a conversation. However, I challenge you to give your child a few seconds to gather their thoughts before pushing them to respond. Again, you never know what they might say!

  1. Don’t know? Find out!

Kids don’t always feel comfortable asking questions, so if they do, make sure to answer those questions for them. Don’t know the answer? That’s okay! No one expects you to know everything. However, it is very important that you find a factual answer to your child’s questions. Look for reputable sources online, contact your local drug and alcohol authority (LRADAC), or reach out to other local professionals for help.

  1. Be positive!

When talking with kids about tough subjects, a positive attitude will make the conversation less awkward and help your child feel at ease and comfortable with asking questions. Maintaining a positive attitude about tough subjects will make it easier for your child to come to you on their own later if they have questions or need help.

The South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS) recently launched a new ad campaign called “Open Conversations.” This campaign, along with its resource website, encourages and equips parents to have open conversations with youth about substance misuse. For additional information and resources, visit https://www.daodas.sc.gov/conversations/.  

LRADAC is the designated alcohol abuse and drug abuse authority for Lexington and Richland Counties of South Carolina. The public, not-for-profit agency offers a wide array of prevention, intervention and treatment programs in locations convenient to residents of both counties. The agency has a budget of approximately $10 million and serves more than 5,000 clients per year.