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Parenting 101: How to Talk to Your Child about Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is a growing concern among parents.

Thanks to devices and social media, tobacco, drugs and alcohol seem just a click away.

But parental guidance can drown out screen traffic and peer pressure. Experts with the Metro Drug Coalition say your kids are listening and the sooner you initiate conversation the better.

“So when do you have your next soccer practice,” Liza Hutchison asked her 13 year old son.

“I don’t know,” he responded.

It’s a typical teenage conversation in the Hutchison home complete with short, one word answers.

“If you talk to a 13-year-old boy and say how was school? He answers simply, ‘Good,’” explains Hutchison.

“Or, if you ask, ‘What’d you do today?’ Nothing. These kids have a pretty good way of shutting you out."

Especially when the topics turn serious.

“I definitely worry about substance abuse. Drugs, alcohol, sex, anything because it’s everywhere now and the kids are exposed to it at such young ages,” Hutchison said.

“We’re seeing kids start to experiment as young as 14-years-old,” said Deborah Crouse with the Metro Drug Coalition.

According to Crouse, tobacco, marijuana and alcohol are the initial temptations.

“If they experiment with those three substances before the age of 14, they’re 17 and a half times more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder as an adult,” explained Crouse. “But, if they wait all the way through high school until they’re 18 to try all of these substances, they only have a 2 percent chance likelihood of developing that as an adult.”

The Metro Drug Coalition believes parents have tremendous influence.

“The parent is critical because they’re the decision maker in the family,” said Crouse. “They’re the enforcer.”

And, conversation is critical. The MDC created conversation cards to help families jumpstart communication.

“These are take time to talk, take time to listen cards,” Crouse said. “It’s kind of what we’ve named these. “

Most of the conversation cards are lighthearted, but some are specific to substance abuse.

“Some of the cards go into deeper things like, ‘If you were with someone taking drugs and alcohol what would you do,’” explained Crouse.

She says make sure the serious conversation is age-appropriate whether preschool or preteen.

“Role play with them, talk to them about different things that might happen,” Crouse advised.

And, if you’re worried about how much information to give, Liza Hutchison lets her kids’ questions guide her answers.

“Kids will only ask as much as they can understand,” said Hutchison. “I would much rather them get the information from me than a friend or the internet.

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