How to talk to your son about drugs and alcohol
Whether you’re the parent of a toddler or a teen, it’s never too early, or too late, to open up the channels of communication about drugs and alcohol. But that doesn’t make it any easier…
Alcohol and drug treatment expert Dr Nicole Lee offers some tips to help you tackle this tricky subject with your son.
1. ESTABLISH EARLY OPEN COMMUNICATION
Really listen and take an interest in what your son does generally from when he is very young. Try not to tease him when he asks questions about the world (even if you think it’s light-hearted). Show him that you are open to discussing anything. When boys (and children in general) don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents, they’ll look for answers somewhere else, even if the sources are unreliable.
2. ASK QUESTIONS IN THE RIGHT WAY
When you want to have input and guide your son, try to ask non-judgmental, open-ended and clear questions that are designed to help him think the answer through by himself. These ‘Socratic questions’ help him develop stronger problem-solving and decision-making skills and also reduce the risk of perceived criticism, which can shut down conversations before they start.
3. COMMUNICATE VALUES AND BOUNDARIES
Boys need and like ground rules. They may try to push boundaries at times, but consistent communication of values helps them understand what is OK and what is not OK in your family. At the same time, actively reinforce when he acts consistently with your family’s positive values, and take a keen interest in his world (when he allows you to) to show that you care about his choices.
4. BE SPECIFIC
When you do talk about alcohol, tobacco, medicines and illicit drugs, be specific about the effects, such as what happens if you take too much (overdose) and the possible long-term damage. You might need to do a little research so you are familiar yourself (start with the stats in the infographic below), but you can also search for the answers together, which further opens the channels of communication.
5. PRE-SCHOOL TO YEAR 2
When giving medicines to younger boys, you can start to talk about what they are used for, what the side effects are, why a doctor prescribes them and why it is important to follow the instructions. If you see someone smoking, take the opportunity talk to your son about health effects and addiction.
6. YEAR 2 TO YEAR 6
Kids might start asking questions about alcohol and other drugs at this age, but you can also use drug use in movies or on TV to start a discussion. Ask what he knows about drugs and what he thinks about drug use. Use this opportunity to give him information, or to look it up together, and also to reinforce your family’s values and boundaries about drugs.
7. HIGH SCHOOL
At this age, your son might know others who have tried alcohol or other drugs, especially if he’s in years 9 to 12. Use these opportunities to reinforce your values. You can start talking about legal aspects, including illicit drugs. Importantly, talk about the dangers of driving under the influence of substances of any sort. Discuss what he would do if offered alcohol or other drugs. Let him know that you will always collect him any time, no matter what has happened, and if he is worried he should call you. Talk to him about what to do if someone he knows gets into trouble with drugs, including when to call an ambulance.
Dr Nicole Lee is speaking at Understanding Boys’ free parent seminar on alcohol and other drugs, which takes place at Brighton Grammar School at 7.30pm on Thursday 9 June 2016.
Visit the BGS website to find out more and to register.
Infographic research provided by 360Edge, specialists in alcohol and other drug responses. Stats taken from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s National Drug Strategy Household Surveys. See the latest survey here.Dr Nicole Lee is a psychologist, researcher and internationally recognised leader in alcohol and other drug addiction issues. This article is about Parenting
Subscribe to Understanding Boys. It’s free!
Got boys? Sign up for tips and advice you'll actually use.