By Chelsea Royer
My TOWN Coalition (Transforming Our Wellness Now) is a local Hoquiam campaign to reduce the numbers of underage drug and alcohol use, which is particularly important in the teen years. It is a unique movement in that it doesn’t just target the education of children, but also the education of parents and encouragement of child-parent dialogue about tough-to-tackle issues.
Within My TOWN is the narrower mission of “Bring it Up.” The tagline, “95% of parents claim to talk to their children about alcohol. Do you?” narrows in on parents and how much they talk to their kids about uncomfortable topics. Though 95% of parents surveyed insist they talk to their kids about drugs and alcohol, surveys of students within Hoquiam High School suggest the statistics are actually much lower.
So what constitutes talking to your kid about these unpleasant topics? How often should you, “Bring it Up”? Wilma Weber of the Grays Harbor County Health Department has some resources for parents and guardians who may feel slightly intimidated at the thought of talking to their teens about substance abuse. Experts suggest that if parents bring up the topic semi-frequently and in relaxed, non-conflict situations, it becomes easier to chat with teens as they feel safe to communicate. Here are some tips for getting your teen to open up in conversation:
Bring it up frequently
Just because you’ve talked to your child once or twice about alcohol, doesn’t mean the conversation will stick with them. Kids are distracted by electronics, relationships, and changing emotions. Keeping an open dialogue is important and allowing your child to know they are free to confide in you without judgment is critical for good communication.
Know what to say
Asking questions that are non-accusatory and non-threatening can be a good way to get the conversation rolling. Wilma Weber gives an example: “What have you heard about (drugs, alcohol, or marijuana) from your friends and teachers?” Asking how your child feels about certain topics is important as well, for example, “What are your thoughts on underage alcohol usage?” Once the ice is broken, it gives you the opportunity to voice life lessons or concerns.
Know when to talk
Drugfree.org exemplifies using recent events to segue conversations such as this: “Hey, you probably know that parents talk to each other and find things out about what’s going on at school… I heard there are kids selling pills – prescriptions that either they are taking or someone in their family takes. Have you heard about kids doing this?” News media can also create an outlet for conversation. If a famous celebrity has fallen to the effects of drug or alcohol abuse, it opens up the opportunity to talk about, not just the negative effects of substance abuse, but also about the importance of not giving up when one has made a mistake. Speaking in a confirming manner that builds up your teen and encourages healthy hobbies gives positive affirmation rather than negative direction.
Weber encourages parents not to be afraid of being firm. Behind frequent conversations should be curfews and house-rules that parents shouldn’t be afraid to enforce. Keep in mind, the more you tie common strings with your child and encourage healthy activities, the less likely you are to have to use disciplinary action. A kid who’s bored will begin to consider unhealthy risks. If your child doesn’t like sports or music, would they be interested in hiking or kayaking? What about paintballing or paper-crafting? What are ways you can connect with your child in ways that they will respond?
Take things a step further and encourage your child to not just rise above temptation, but also be a leader amongst their peers. Teens need to know that though they may think or feel all of their friends are using drugs or alcohol, the actual percentage is much smaller. Gaining awareness of this fact, they can encourage their peers to avoid trying drugs or alcohol due to peer pressure. The best way to encourage leadership in your teens, is to be a leader yourself.
It’s never too late to try and connect with your teen and never too late to begin working on positive communication. For more information on how to talk to your child, check out the websites Drug Free and Start Talking Now. With resources available at your fingertips, you can find examples of questions to ask your child and quick facts about underage substance abuse to back up what you have to say.