How to Say It
Open, honest conversations are some of the most powerful tools parents can use to connect with — and protect — their kids. But when tackling some of life’s tougher topics, especially those about drugs and alcohol, just figuring out what to say can be a challenge. The following scripts will help you start the conversation with your child — and keep it going throughout his or her life.
Scenario: Giving your child a daily vitamin.
What to Say: Vitamins help your body grow. You need to take them every day so that you’ll grow up big and strong like Mommy and Daddy — but you should only take what I give you. Too many vitamins can hurt your body and make you sick.
Scenario: Your kids are curious about prescription medicine bottles around the house.
What to Say: You should only take prescription medicine that has your name on it or that your doctor has chosen just for you. If you take prescription medicine that belongs to somebody else, it could be dangerous and make you sick.
Scenario: Your child sees an adult smoking and, since you’ve talked about the dangers of smoking, is confused. (Parenting expert Jen Singer says the same script applies to grade-schoolers.)
What to Say: Grownups can make their own decisions and sometimes those decisions aren’t the best for their bodies. Sometimes, when someone starts smoking, his or her body feels like it has to have cigarettes — even though it’s not healthy. And that makes it harder for him or her to quit.
Scenario: Your child is just starting middle school and you know that eventually, he will be offered drugs and alcohol.
What to Say: There are a lot of changes ahead of you in middle school. I know we talked about drinking and drugs when you were younger, but now is when there’s probably going to be an issue. I’m guessing you’ll at least hear about kids who are experimenting or find yourself some place where kids are doing stuff that is risky. I just want you to remember that I’m here for you and the best thing you can do is just talk to me about the things you hear or see. Don’t think there’s anything I can’t handle or that you can’t talk about with me, okay?
Scenario: You find out that kids are selling prescription medicine at your child’s school. Your child hasn’t mentioned it and you want to start a conversation about it.
What to Say: 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 — prescription medicine that either they are taking or someone in their family takes. Have you
heard about kids doing this?
Scenario: Your child’s favorite celebrity — the one he or she really looks up to — has been named in a drug scandal.
What to Say: I think it must be really difficult to live a celebrity life and stay away from drugs and alcohol. They’re probably under a lot of pressure — always being in the public eye, being watched and having to do well — and, unfortunately, some make the wrong choices and turn to drugs and alcohol. But a lot of famous people manage to stay clean — like [name others who don’t do drugs] — and hopefully this incident is going to help [name of celebrity] straighten out his or her life. Of course, people make mistakes — the real measure of a person is how accountable he is when he messes up. The thing is, when a person uses drugs and alcohol — especially a young person because he’s still growing — it changes how his brain works and makes him do really stupid things. Most people who use drugs and alcohol need a lot of help to get better. I hope [name] has a good doctor and friends and family members to help him/her.
Scenario: Your child tells you he was offered prescription medicine by a classmate— but said no.
What to Say: After praising your child for making a good choice and telling you about it, let him know that in the future, he can always blame you to get out of a bad situation. Say, “If you’re ever offereddrugs — or someone else’s medicine — at school, tell that person, ‘My mother would kill me if I took that and then she wouldn’t let me play baseball.’” And then you’ll want to follow up with the other parent and/or school.
Scenario: Your grade-schooler comes home reeking of cigarette smoke.
What to Say: I know you’re curious and you wanted to see what smoking was like, but as you can see, it’s pretty disgusting and it probably made you cough and gag a lot. It’s important for you to know that smoking cigarettes is very unhealthy for your body. I love you and am concerned about your well-being and health and I don’t want you smoking. Let’s talk about why you decided to smoke. If there are any related issues – or anything on your mind, let’s talk about it. I’m here to listen and help you.
Scenario: Your child has expressed curiosity about the pills she sees you take every day — and the other bottles in the medicine cabinet.
What to Say: Just because it’s in a family’s medicine cabinet doesn’t mean that it is safe for you to take. Even if your friends say it’s okay, say, “No, my parents won’t let me take something that doesn’t have my name on the bottle.”
(Keep in mind that the medicine cabinet isn’t the safest place to keep your medicine. Learn the best ways to safeguard medicine: (http://medicineabuseproject.org/whatyou-can-do/safeguard-your-home).
Scenario: One in 7 teens in America has tried huffing — inhaling the fumes from everyday items like nail polish remover, hair spray and cooking spray. Talk to your child about the dangers of the products under the kitchen sink — it’s important to reiterate the warning.
What to Say: I know it’s been a while since I talked to you about the dangers of cleaning products and that they should only be used for cleaning. But I’ve heard that some kids are using them to get high. I just want to let you know that even if your friends say, “Hey, we can get this stuff at the supermarket so it’s totally okay to sniff it,” it’s not. Inhaling fumes from cleaners or products like cooking spray and nail polish remover is as dangerous as abusing medicine and street drugs, like marijuana. Now, situation if that happens. What do you think you should say? Remember, you can always blame me and say, “My mom’s expecting me to be home now, gotta go!” or “My mom would kill me if I tried that!” or simply, “No thanks, I’m not interested.”
Scenario: Your teen is starting high school — and you want to remind him that he doesn’t have to give in to peer pressure to drink or use drugs.
What to Say: You must be so excited about starting high school. It’s going to be a ton of fun, and we want you to have a great time. But we also know there’s going to be some pressure to start drinking, abusing medicine, smoking pot or taking other drugs. A lot of people feel like this is just what high-school kids do. But, it’s not what you have to do. Not all high school kids drink or use drugs! Many don’t, which means it won’t make you weird to choose not to drink or use drugs, either. You can still have a lot of fun if you don’t drink or use drugs. It is important to seek out these other kids who are making good choices, and be brave about trying new activities or making new friends. You’ll have a lot of decisions to make about what you want to do in high school and you might even make some mistakes. Just know that you can talk to us about anything, anytime — even if you DO make a mistake or feel stuck in a situation that you need help to get out of. We won’t freak out. We’ll figure out a way to help you. We want you to count on us to help you make smart decisions and stay safe, okay?
Scenario: Every time you ask your teen how his day was, you get a mumbled “Whatever, it was okay” in return.
What to Say: Skip asking general questions like, “How’s school?” or questions that only need a... yes/no answer. Instead, ask more specific questions on topics that interest both you and your teen (“Tell me about the pep rally yesterday.” “What are the cliques like in your school?” “Fill me in on your Chemistry lab test.”)
You can also use humor and even some gentle sarcasm, to get the conversation flowing by making your child laugh and start opening up a bit. To show your teen that you want to know what it’s like in his or high school, try this with an exaggerated playful and light tone, “If I call the principal and ask for a behind-the-scenes pass, I can tag-along with you to class and know what a day-in-your-life is really like.” or “I hope MTV does a reality-show on your high school so I could see what it’s really like for you every day.” It can also be helpful to share a brief anecdote revealing something about your day to model opening up, and let your teen experience how it feels good to connect.
Scenario: Your high schooler comes home smelling of alcohol or cigarette smoke for the first time.
What to Say: “The response should be measured, quiet and serious — not yelling, shouting or overly
emotional,” says parenting expert and author Marybeth Hicks. “Your child should realize that this isn’t just a frustrating moment like when he doesn’t do a chore you asked for; it’s very big, very important and very serious.”
Say, “I’m really upset that you’re smoking/drinking. I need to get a handle on how often this has been happening and what your experiences have been so far. I get that you’re worried about being in trouble, but the worst part of that moment is over — I know that you’re experimenting. I love you and care about you. Your health and well-being are very important to me. Let’s talk about this. I need you to be honest with me. So for starters, tell me about what happened tonight…”
Scenario: Your teen has started to hang out with kids you don’t know — and dropped his old friends.
What to Say: It seems like you are hanging with a different crowd than you have in the past. Is something up with your usual friends? Is there a problem with [old friends’ names] or are you just branching out and meeting some new kids? Tell me about your new friends. What are they like? What do they like to do? What do you like about them?
YOUNG ADULTS (18-25)
Scenario: Your adult child is moving to her own apartment or into a college dorm.
What to Say: I know you’re off to start your own life, but please know that I’m always here for you. I respect that you’re old enough to make your own choices, but if you ever want another perspective on things, please reach out to me. I’ll try my hardest to help you out without judging you for your decisions. Sound good?
Amelia M. Arria, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health and the Director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland School of Public Health also suggests saying, “There are certain things that you can count on in life and one of the things you’re going to be able to count on is me. As your parent, I am always here for you. Remember, I am your support. I’m the one who can guide you.”
Scenario: After watching a movie portraying drug use together, you want to gauge your adult child’s opinion on drugs.
What to Say: I know you’re going to think that I’m overprotective or meddling, but that movie really disturbed me and I just have to ask: Is there a lot of drug use at your college/in your new town? Do the new friends that you’ve made dabble in drugs at all? How do you feel about it?
Script coaching was provided by parenting experts Jen Singer, author of You’re a Good Mom (and Your Kids Aren’t So Bad Either), Marybeth Hicks, author of Bringing Up Geeks: How to Protect Your Kid’s Childhood in a Grow-Up-Too-Fast World and Amelia Arria, Ph.D., senior research scientist, Treatment Research Institute.