Posted: Oct 28, 2013 9:00 AM
 
Talking to tweens about drugs and alcohol can be intimidating. In fact, many parents wait until they think it is absolutely necessary. An open door policy and frequent conversations will help your tween understand the dangers of drug and alcohol use and make good choices.

Talking to kids about drugs and alcohol is no easy task. With all of the day-to-day stress and pressure that kids are under these days, it seems as if there is no "perfect" time to address this hot button topic. That can cause many parents to play the waiting game. But talking is exactly what we need to do if we want our tweens to make good choices when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

Parents, as it turns out, are a very powerful anti-drug.

Oct. 23–31 marks this year's Red Ribbon Week, a campaign sponsored by the National Family Partnership (NFP) intended to educate youth and encourage participation in drug-free activities. Many schools and organizations across the country use this time to talk about healthy choices and raise awareness about the potential dangers of drug use. It just might be the perfect time to start that difficult conversation with your tween.

There are two important aspects to talking with tweens about drugs... providing factual information about the drugs and creating a strong relationship with tweens where they feel very comfortable talking about touchy subjects with their parents.

"There are two important aspects to talking with tweens about drugs," says Andrea Nair, MA, CCC, psychotherapist and parenting educator, "providing factual information about the drugs and creating a strong relationship with tweens where they feel very comfortable talking about touchy subjects with their parents."

Kids begin to hear and internalize messages about drugs and alcohol as young as elementary school these days. When children lack understanding and detail, they rely on their imagination to complete the picture. It's important to be open, honest and calm when educating your children about drugs and alcohol so that they can make positive choices based on the information that they have.

Get on it

Believe me, I know, your tween is very responsible and always makes good choices. Be that as it may, tweens are confronted with negative choices a lot. And peer pressure is a powerful thing. Don't wait another second to start this conversation.

Ask your tween what she has heard at school or within her peer group. Talk about everything from smoking to drinking to illegal drugs to prescription drug use. Don't leave anything out.

Be positive

It's always a good idea to start with a positive when confronting difficult subjects. The truth is that many tweens are fearful of talking about high-intensity topics with parents, and are prone to shutting down if they feel threatened.

Identify situations where your tween made positive choices and talk about what that means to you.

Begin the conversation by talking about how responsible your tween is right now. Be specific. Identify situations where your tween made positive choices and talk about what that means to you. Spend some time making a list of healthy and unhealthy choices with your tween. Tweens have a tendency to rely on ego and they don't always like being told what to do. When you ask them for input and involve them in the process, they are more likely to listen to what you're saying and internalize positive messages.

Be future oriented

Tweens like to think about right now. Although they might have big dreams for the future, they don't always stop to think about how right now might affect those big dreams. In short, they need a little help connecting the dots.

Be detailed when you talk about cause and effect. The truth is that a string of negative choices in high school can affect college admissions which can later affect job opportunities. Tweens won't necessarily hear that when they are so very stuck in the present tense. But they can talk about their specific goals and how to reach them. Help your tween identify her goals and then make a list of things she needs to do to reach those goals and potential barriers to reaching them. Hang it on the wall. Revisit it often.

Keep talking

It's no big secret that an open-door policy is the best way to keep tweens talking when the going gets tough. But there is a catch: That open door needs to be free from judgment. Scare tactics don't work with tweens. Honesty, empathy and understanding are far more effective.

Resist the urge to judge or cut off contact from the peer who got drunk at the party and talk about the details of the situation instead. Discuss safety plans and what your tween can do if she is offered drugs or alcohol. If you want your tweens to rely on you for support with these difficult situations, you need to remain calm and avoid overreacting.

And above all else, just keep talking.

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