Talking to kids about drugs and alcohol is an important step in developing resiliency and building communication. Whilst it may be challenging and perhaps even intimidating, it is an essential conversation to have.
Drug and Alcohol Use Amongst Children:
- By the time children are in grade 8, they think that “using alcohol is okay” (World Health Organisation)
- At ages 12 to 13, around two-thirds of students have tried alcohol
- From grades 9 through 12, around half of students report report ever having used marijuana
- 2 in 10 twelfth graders reported using prescription drugs medicines
- About 4 in 10 students from grades 9 through 10 admitted having tried cigarettes (American Academy of Paediatrics).
According to the American Academy of Paediatrics, it is recommended to screen children at the age of 9 for drug and alcohol abuse. According to the Hong Kong Central Registry of Drug Abuse’s latest report, there are currently more young drug users in Hong Kong than before, raising worrying implications for the future. The report added that among young drug users, the most common reason for drug abuse is “peer influence to identify with peers”, and “relief of boredom, depression and stress”.
How do Drugs and Alcohol Impact Children?
Alcohol and drug usage among children and teenagers affect growth and development, especially in the brain. When kids choose not to use alcohol or drugs, they are more likely to develop hobbies, make friends, form career goals and avoid serious trouble in school. They experience fewer health issues and have a lower risk of encountering sleep and appetite disturbances, headaches, depression, stress and anxiety, teenage pregnancy, as well as crime. It is also important to note that substance abuse during the early years increases a person’s chance of becoming addicted to or continuing to abuse substances later in life.
Setting An Example:
Studies show a relationship between underage drinking behaviours and the presence of drinking adults in the same household. A 5% increase in binge drinking among adults in a community is associated with a 12% increase in the chance of underage drinking.
Therefore, talking to kids about drugs and alcohol is an important step to educating them, addressing the topic before drug and alcohol use turns into abuse, and becomes a disease in itself.
Why do I need to talk to my child?
“Children who learn about drug risks from their parents are less likely to start using drugs”, much research says. When we don’t talk about drug and alcohol use, children may think it’s okay. Furthermore, parents’ views on alcohol, tobacco, and drugs can strongly affect how children think about the substances. It is a step in developing resiliency and communication around the topic, helping children make healthy choices in the future.
How do I start the conversation?
1. Start early when kids are 8 to 12 years old
Kids at this age are still willing to talk openly to their parents about touchy subjects. They have curious minds and have not yet set their opinions. Furthermore, getting to know who your kid’s friends are can help you gauge their attitudes on the topic.
2. Make use of teachable moments and pick a good time
Look for a character with a cigarette in a movie or on TV, then start a conversation about smoking and its effects on the human body. This can be used as a conversation starter, leading to a discussion about other drugs and how they can do harm as well. Mealtimes are another good time for chatting, and this can become a part of your general health and safety conversations with your kids. Moreover, it’s often easier to have a conversation side-by-side, such as when you’re driving in the car, washing up together or preparing food. Sometimes kids are more likely to talk when they don’t have to make eye contact— like when you are in the car or walking together.
3. Let them know your values and listen to them
You can talk about your experiences as a child, your values, and fears and at the same time ask them what they’ve heard about drugs. Create a sense of understanding and openness to listen.
4. Let them be responsible for their actions
You’re trying to help your child make good choices in life about drugs. But only they can say no to drugs. Make sure they know you support them, but that it’s up to them to make positive decisions.
5. It’s okay to make mistakes
“Let go” and “ be kind to yourself” should always be principles to refer back to. If there is accidental abuse or misuse, there is always time to change course. A flexible thinking approach in dealing with problems helps the most with children and teenagers.
Here are some possible talking points your conversations can revolve around:
- Drugs or alcohol are not tried by everyone, and some people never use them.
- It’s not a rite of passage to use drugs or drink alcohol.
- Experimenting one time can lead to addiction or problems at school, or even with law.
- Using drugs and alcohol can often lead to issues at home or with friends.
For more information about alcohol and drug use, visit the following websites:
If you or someone you know would benefit from professional mental health support related to addictions, please reach out to book an appointment with Ms.Ritu Verma here.